Archive for May, 2016

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week four

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Includes Tillie Walden’s A CITY INSIDE, the new BROKEN FRONTIER anthology, David Lapham’s terrifying STRAY BULLETS VOL 5 and Boulet’s autobiographical comedy.

Notes vol 1: Born To Be A Larve (£16-99, Soaring Penguin Press) by Boulet.

“It-it was an accident! She-she was phosphorescent!”

Astutely observed and phenomenally funny, expect much self-mockery!

You may be wondering how the above could possibly form part of these autobiographical entries from Boulet’s online blog, and I’m half-tempted to leave you guessing. However, the incensed is Jesus, for the incinerated is the Holy Virgin Mary – or at least a statuette of the same which glowed in the dark, was tipped into a bin and thence onto a garden bonfire.

Talk about childhood trauma!

If I were to summarise the whole it would be in two lines after Boulet’s successive string of humiliations after posing naked for a life-sized portrait for fellow Fine Art student Wilfried in Dijon, when he thinks his embarrassment is finally at an end.

“BUT: Destiny is the cruel cowboy, and you are the naive Mexican.”

He’s finally set free only for Fate, from afar, to take aim with all time in world and shoot him in the back.

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It’s this sort of lateral thinking which typifies the daily reports or reveries here which can fly off into all sorts of visual fancy, and it’s exactly this sort of toe-curling “There but for the grace of God go I” which you can relish in the privacy of your own home while chuckling in the knowledge that Paris-based Boulet found it within himself to publish them on the worldwide web first.

At which point I should point out that all art here is taken from the website. It’s been reformatted and verbally tweaked for publication.

The stories in this volume in a vast variety of full-colour treatments are from 2004 to 2005, interspersed with black and white postscripts or analyses adding further embellishments, retrospective context and balms to avoid potential litigation or diffuse angry feedback. How could you possibly be irate with someone so charming?

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Incidentally these crisply delineated and comparatively svelte inserts make a feature of Boulet’s strikingly carrot-coloured mop of hair, turning it into an instantly recognisable trademark. If he used the same process as the blog entries then they too were drawn straight onto paper in ink – no pencils – which give them both eras’ pages a vibrancy which immediately put me in mind of Dan Berry, his THROW AWAY YOUR KEYS in particular.

Other comparison points for the general tone include the more episodic recollections from Eddie Campbell’s ALEC; Pascal Girard (REUNION, PETTY THEFT), Joe Decie (THE LISTENING AGENT etc), Liz Prince (ALONE FOREVER et al) with more than a hint of Jeffrey Brown’s cartooning shorthand (FUNNY MISSHAPEN BODY) behind these sleek, graceful lines.

Basically this: you’re going to be entertained.

Deadlines and money matters are a constant concern here, as they are to so many overworked and financially under-rewarded comicbook creators, and there are two early Man Versus Machine anecdotes which once more made me think of dear Eddie Campbell in – amongst so many other instances – THE FATE OF THE ARTIST.

The first involves Boulet’s battle with computers which as we all know have a habit of dying on us just when we need them the most. It is then that we need computer experts the most, and find ourselves at the mercy of rapacious corporations and their jobs-worth employees. You better pray you didn’t bully those nerds back at school. But Boulet is resourceful and Boulet is resilient. He is tenacious. Also: smug at the counter in sunglasses.

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Not so smug or adept is he when it comes to Man Versus Multi-Carriage Machines which should transport you, hitch-free, to your Swiss Comics Festival… so long as you catch them before they set off. Unfortunately Boulet like Campbell is one of the world’s worst travellers, neither adept at catching trains or planes in time. Fail and – although we tend to revere the SNCF from this side of the Channel – it appears to be open-upgrade-surcharge-season and complications like you wouldn’t believe.

Both sets of battles will be revisited many times over, but also the opportunities to make us thoroughly jealous during Festivals in both Switzerland and Korea – specifically Seoul which is six times the size of Paris (who knew?) and where absolutely everything appears to be “an hour away by bus”. In spite of the buckets of booze, Boulet manages to comport himself much better there, is swooned over by teenage school children and delights in accumulating the most highbrow and classy cultural artefacts that the country has to offer. Possibly. In fact much of the comic relief in both Sienne and Sierre comes from his constant companion at comicbook festivals, the seemingly shameless Reno, fearlessly navigating foreign territory – no matter how drunk – populated by his fellow Festival-going and most esteemed creators, on occasion at night in nothing more than his Speedos.

More seriously, we tend to assume in England and American that everything is all love and light when it comes to BD in France, individualistic creators receiving both the recognition and the consequent rewards they so justly deserve, but there is a truly upsetting account of one year at Angoulême where the more serious and significant signals are drowned out by the crass noise of L5 promoting their godawful comicbook, their queue obliterating cartoonist Juju from view. With Boulet in anthropomorphic mode, this isn’t the end of such similar travesties where fame triumphs over talent. It is to weep.

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What else is on offer? Post-Festival come-downs, late-night parties, flat-sharing, cookery, Christmas lights, the curiously conductive properties of Cambert, demonstrations, a little score-settling and a missed opportunity on Valentine’s day which ticked a recognition box for me also – in Paris too!

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‘How To Avoid Having Sex’ comes with a killer phone-centric punchline you might want to take note of lest you be caught out as well, while you may more happily connect with the French maestro rediscovering his childhood in the form of classic Amstrad games, Jet Set Willy, Pyjamarama, Fruity Frank and Boulderdash.

Throughout Boulet experiments both in terms of narrative and style, and there’s a double-page spread of ‘Grimaces’ with more rounded forms and expressions which put me in mind of animator Nick Park.

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To say that the man’s body-conscious would be misleading – he’s more body-comfortable – and there’s an anti-Charles-Atlas advert promoting a less threatening physique and a cuddlier tum which had me giggling away. But he’s certainly in complete command of the human form, presenting page after page of beautiful, beautiful figure drawing with limbs that flap, flop and hang just-so, articulating in all the right directions, at all the right angles.

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Come December this will still rank as one of my favourite books of the year for sheer expressive exuberance as Boulet battles through whatever life throws at him, tears of frustration, terror, self-pity or exhaustion never far from his eyes, cheeks or brow.

Top tip: should you ever want to terrify him at a signing – simply say with a French accent, and preferably while his head’s down in concentration – “Pour Louis…”

That should do it.

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Top tip two: Boulet is a Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival which takes place every year during October in Kendal. At some point or another he’ll be signing. Do not say I sent you.


Buy Notes vol 1: Born To Be A Larve and read the Page 45 review here

A City Inside (£7-50, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie Walden.

“You gave up the sky for her.”

Another quiet, contemplative and sublime gem from Tillie Walden, creator of I LOVE THIS PART, a recent Page 45 Comicbook Of The Month and one of my favourite little books in the shop.

I’ve just found another, with a sense of perspective which no one of Tillie’s relatively tender years should possess. I’m three decades down her timeline and recognised the truth here, finding myself standing at one of the key crossroads in this graphic novella.

Told in the second person singular, a young woman casts her mind across her life. It’s so engrossing, so cleverly done that you won’t notice the switch in tenses the first time around, and as it concludes you’ll have forgotten where you came in so that the final three pages are truly startling.

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The lines are crisp, the shadows deep and the night sky positively glows.

There’s always something truly magical in Walden’s work and at one point, as the pull quote suggests, the woman finds herself suspended in the sky, living in the cup of a hollow sphere, from the top of which billow curtains which are never truly closed. Can you imagine the view? Can you imagine the tranquillity, reading and writing and sleeping with your supine cat?

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“Then one day, you met her.”

Cycling through the sky.

“She was beautiful, wasn’t she?”

Only once is there more than a single sentence per panel – quite often there is silence – and within the recollection itself those panels are bordered only by what lies within.

High in the sky, with the wind tossing the lanterns and tousling her hair, there are no borders at all.

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Buy A City Inside and read the Page 45 review here

Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 (£6-00, Broken Frontier) by Rozi Hathaway, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino, Adam Vian, Rebecca Bagley, Kim Clements, Gareth Brookes, Gill Hatcher, Jessica Martin, Mike Medaglia, EdieOP, Owen D. Pomery, Alex Potts, Paul B. Rainey, Donya Todd.

“The lines we draw.
“The lines we walk.
“The lines we repeat.
“The lines we hold.”

There’s one more line, and I love it.

From ‘The Lines’ by Owen D. Pomery of BETWEEN THE BILLBOARDS etc.

Top-notch A5 anthology published by Broken Frontier whose website, ringleader Andy Oliver and his equally eloquent cohorts continue to scout out and promote to the heavens the very best emerging British talent, nurturing it as they do so. Truly they are custodians.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the flexible theme is breaking frontiers, be they physical, metaphorical or even metaphysical boundaries. Lord knows but we love to escape, and some are in more need than others.

Others, of course, delight in imposing strictures and Jess Milton’s ‘The Young Marquis De Sade’ finds the rebellious young man’s family attempting to put the fear of God into him through the firm hand of a Christian education. He does learn his lesson but it isn’t the one they intended!

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Delightfully stylish lines, faces and palette which put me in mind of Jess Fink’s CHESTER 5000 XYV which is not remotely inapposite, and I loved the way in which the strict and sedentary composition in class yields upon awakening to something much more turbulent and so thrilling. Not just for the reader, either…

Sticking to the subject of all things edifying, anyone who’s read Gareth Brookes’ THE BLACK PROJECT already knows how naughty he is, wrestling humour into the most macabre and head-shakingly embarrassing constructs then sewing it up so seamlessly you cannot help but laugh, wide-eyed and as quietly as possible lest someone – particularly a Higher Authority – overhear you.

So it is with ‘Dead Things’, the first dead thing being a brother and sister’s grandmother. Their mother impresses upon them the benefits of a Christian burial, after which they take the lesson learned into their garden.

“When we went outside to play we found some dead animals.
“A bee, an ant, and a worm and we gave them Christian funeral.
“But after a while we ran out of dead things.”

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That last line and the silent panels on either side of it constitute perfect sequential-art storytelling, the penultimate paragraph is the sort of the thing that will make you sneeze whatever you’re drinking through your nose, and the story ends with an ellipsis so innocent yet ominous that I couldn’t help but cackle.

BUTTERTUBS’ Donya Todd was never going to behave, but if you thought she might (because her art is every so pretty and… yeah) then this early exchange between a couple is a delicious reminder of why we all love her:

“I like your dog.”
“I like your skull.”

She’s not carrying one.

Refusing to conform too – or being told what she can’t do – is Adam Vian’s fortune teller who demands a window on her world so that she can at least see what lies beyond. The Mapmaker refuses, declares it impossible – that she can’t change a world with drawing or pen. Well, we all know you can – my world’s been changed by both. Before she makes her exit, however, she has this exchange with a customer following her previous prediction:

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“”You’ll meet a beautiful maiden across the ocean.” Wow. Generous. So… you crossed the ocean already?”
“Don’t be silly. Of course not.”

You can’t just sit on your arse waiting for your future to come to you.

Two other escapees are Rozi Hathaway’s young protagonist in ‘Afloat’ and Alice Urbino’s ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, but what they are escaping is very different: abject poverty and loneliness; the sensory overload of society’s non-stop judgementalism.

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The former is a deeply melancholic affair of isolation, neglect, broken windows and threadbare socks until a vision floods onto the page in oceanic colours which are fresher, more healthy and hopeful. What actually happens is open to interpretation but if there’s a whiff of mortality is still as wondrous and magical as a Studio Ghibli or Tillie Walden affair, with the child’s own origami taking on a life it its own and attracting company to boot.

There’s such a lot more to explore including an oh so satisfying page from THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO BEING OUTSIDE’s Gill Hatcher whose nest of bunched-up baby birds debate the pros and cons of flying the coop as full-fledged independent individuals. The colourful birds, the black and white nest and the eaves it’s built under form their own free-floating panels from which speech balloons emanate in perfect union.

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Lastly, for now, the collection is closed by Rebecca Bagley’s ‘Catch’ in deep, rich and pale violets blazing with golden dreams of far more fecund fishing trips than those a child’s father manages to secure in order to feed his family. The landscapes looked down on at night from a three-quarter angle are things of wonder, lit by stars, a full moon, its light caught by clouds and a glow from the home on the hill’s windows.

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Buy Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 and read the Page 45 review here

Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Lucy Knisley…

“Hooray! They’re coming!”
“There’s a dead squirrel right here where the truck is going to drive!”
“If they squish it, it’ll be all over the road when the guests arrive! What do we do?”

Cue the mother of bride coming to the rescue by whipping the dead rodent out of the way with her bare hands just in time, much to the awestruck admiration of the bride-to-be! Haha, there is no way in the world my mother-in-law would have done that! This is easily my favourite Knisley work yet, packed with self-deprecating humour relating to the sheer insanity of deciding to plan and execute her own beautifully bespoke and intimately personal wedding down to the most minute detail. Still, it’s probably put her off ever doing it again so there’s one good reason not to get divorced…


It’s been fascinating to see her improve from book to book in recent years, both in terms of her storytelling and art. I had sometimes felt with her works, increasingly less so, that we were being presented with set pieces and situations rather than a continuous narrative flow, as though perhaps she was working with a paucity of material at times or a touch uncertain how to seamlessly stitch it together. I certainly didn’t get that impression remotely here, this felt like a work of real depth and punch and flowed gloriously from cover to cover. I hope that’s not perceived as a being too critical of her previous works: RADIATOR DAYS, FRENCH MILK, RELISH – MY LIFE IN THE KITCHEN, AGE OF LICENSE: A TRAVELOGUE and DISPLACEMENT, because I am big fan. It’s just lovely to see the ongoing progression.


After giving new readers a quick recap of her and John’s chequered relationship background (see mainly AGE OF LICENSE: A TRAVELOGUE) she goes on to perfectly capture the emotional rollercoaster of the extended lead up to the nuptials and the big day itself. She shares the many laughs and more than a few tears she experienced whilst gradually realising the full, dawning  horror of just how much is involved with planning your own wedding. You will chuckle, particularly if you’ve been through such torment yourself, just as I also did with Adrian Tomine’s SCENES FROM AN IMPENDING MARRIAGE.

As mentioned, I feel this work is also a big step on for her again art-wise too. I have commented before on her at times sparse style, pages with just characters on, no backgrounds for example. There is far less of that here, with much more in the way of traditional panels and fully fleshed out scenes, and it really helps with the sense of continuity to the overall story. Where we do have the type of page I’m talking about, it’s done much more as an occasional punctuation, usually with some amusing visual gag involving wedding paraphernalia.


So, what next for Miss Knisley? Assuming she keeps her maiden name for comics, that is! Well, now she’s pretty much caught up chronologically with regaling us with the trials and tribulations of her life, I would dearly love to see her take a crack at some fictional material next. Yes, it might be a stretch for someone who, as she freely admits, sees herself as autobiographical comics maker, but on the basis of this work, I’m sure she’d succeed admirably. Failing that, there’s always a potential career as a wedding planning to fall back on.


Buy Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride and read the Page 45 review here

Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham.

I’ve had nightmares like this:

For some inexplicable reason you’re back at school. Having escaped its horrors years ago, you’ve returned to the grounds as a pupil and they’re at once all too familiar yet disconcertingly alien. You hardly know anyone anymore and you’re not quite sure where everything is and what’s changed.

The warring cliques and back-stabbing rat race certainly hasn’t.

Virginia Applejack ran away from her horrendous home years ago in STRAY BULLETS and if you’d forgotten why, a single encounter with her malicious mother will remind you instantly. Fortunately her years of freedom – in spite of the atrocities she has witnessed and endured – have given her a sense of distance which will stand her in sanity-saving stead and a capacity for take-no-shit violence which will make anyone standing in her way today rue it something rotten.

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But first, one friendly face in the form of Leon, who’s just got the crap kicked out of him yet again.

“I’m in the duck-and-cover group. We’re like the CIA – we hang together, but if one of us gets caught the others disavow their existence.
“The jocks are probably, like, the biggest assholes, and the most powerful. The burnouts really suck, too. Their leader is Jesse Barret. I wish him dead every Sunday in church.”

The jocks and the burnouts have grown complacent. They’ve begun to imagine themselves invulnerable, immune even to each other’s threats. But Virginia Applejack will prove an unexpected, incendiary new ingredient in their midst.

“Hey, kid. Ginny!”
“It’s your turn to bat.”

It most certainly is.

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I can promise you a great deal of catharsis, but also fear in the form of another wild card, Mike Hussey, and this volume includes that chapter. The chapter which had both Mark and myself wide-eyed a decade ago that Lapham would even go there: a consensual sexual experiment between two teenagers with catastrophic results both for their friendship and for anyone encountering Mike Hussey ever again. Whatever you’re thinking, David Lapham will up the stakes then and thereafter, leaving you cowering away in the corner, wincing.

Based on an eight-panel grid, the storytelling could not be more accessible to newcomers to comics, and its clarity is matched by his attention to detail. His portraits are extraordinarily vivid and individualistic given his economy of line. A single panel of a crowded party can contain more characterisation than you’d believe possible or is remotely necessary. There’s also an intense physicality to the forms. I sat staring at several jaw bones for ages, marvelling at the skull I can could see and almost touch beneath the skin – or rather the contoured line demarking that skin!

Critics harp on about the complexity of Alan Moore’s best plot structures – and rightly so – but it is frankly insane how intricately mapped all the confluent elements are in the whole of STRAY BULLETS and even within this single, stand-alone strand. Ha! I’ve just called a whopping, eleven-chapter chunk “a strand”, but that’s how epic this project is. All of it is connected, skipping backwards and forwards in time – which is how Lapham manages to mine more from characters with a lot of life left in them even after biting the dust yonks ago – but here it’s particularly clear how cleverly cause and effect plays its awful part in every element which builds towards crescendo after crescendo. If there’s a life lesson to be learned here it’s that you reap what you sow: it’s going to come back to bite you in the ass or in the ass of someone you care for.

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And that’s another thing: after everything she’s gone through, Virginia Applejack still cares. So does poor Leon. If nobody cares then nor will you. Everyone else is repugnant.

For far more on Lapham’s actual craft, please see my previous reviews, particularly of the STRAY BULLETS: UBER ALLES edition of which this contains the final eleven issues, otherwise it’s just me repeating myself.

This collection now fills the one remaining gap in the individual STRAY BULLETS softcovers, meaning you can go straight on to STRAY BULLETS VOL 6: THE KILLERS, which was the first in the new series launched the other year.

This is the only crime I rank as highly as Brubaker’s and Phillips’.


Buy Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Anne Szabla.

A lovely little number for all ages which should appeal to fantasy-loving families including fans of Jeff Smith’s BONE, this is light on text for those whom it frightens.

Not-very-old ones can marvel instead at the beautiful designs like the huge, all-encompassing head-dresses and masks – even the beasts bear masks! – as well as the sheer spectacle of a fellow, spirited youngster who will not be daunted nor nay-said in spite of being tiny, clumsy and a foundling outsider.

Its scope is potentially enormous and I would be far from surprised to discover in a decade’s time that this was but a prologue. Which is to say that this first instalment comes with many more questions than answers.

Ripe with legend and lore, it tells of the Rook Men’s animosity towards light and so love of a “halfway beast” which stole it from the world, hid it in a whelk shell then swallowed that whole.

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Without the sun’s life-giving rays the tribes of the two rivers found themselves hard-pressed to forage and hunt in a perpetual winter and ousted from the forest they’d once made their home. Fortunately they had a champion in the form of Mali Mani who had defeated the monster with a bell and sword, but was swallowed by the forest and kept incarcerated there by the Rook Men.

So it’s still pretty cold.

Tomorrow our tiny Bali should be embarking on The Smokewalk, his adoptive River Tribe’s rite of passage, but his centre of gravity is considered too low to even lift a spear let alone throw it accurately. Lakasi has a point there. But Bali sets off anyway late at night and of his own accord in search of an ancient ruin discovered earlier by accident in that same deep wood. And in doing so, he may be beginning his journey anyway…

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Some small parts of the storytelling I found it difficult to discern – in a largely wordless comic you need maximum clarity – but I’ll put it down to Bali being caught in the heat of the chaotic moments, all of which were still beautiful to behold. Young minds are more dextrous than mine anyway, and will move swiftly, eagerly on, relishing Bali’s fortitude and resourcefulness and refusal to back down or give in when danger rears its multiple clawing, scratching and intimidating heads. Also, I know from experience that I’m no more competent with a javelin, either.

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The pictorial wall paintings and pillar engravings are glorious, as was the elaborately ornamented fireplace. Look around carefully and you may notice a small entrance slashed at by much bigger claws sharp enough to make their carved mark on stone. Visually this world is very well built.

Plus there was an element of Playstation’s Shadow Of The Colossus in one particular encounter and Disney’s Fantasia in another sequence.

HELLBOY’s Mike Mignola’s a fan.


Buy Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani and read the Page 45 review here

Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c (£29-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark.

One of my favourite current comicbooks, this edition collects the third and fourth LAZARUS softcovers along with all the original issues’ full-page advertisements from the fictional world itself.


“The weather’s turning. It looks like a storm.”
“Is that why you’re nervous?”
“There’s talk that your Family will go back to Hock.”
“It will not happen.”
“I would very much like to kiss you. Would you permit me to kiss you, Forever?”

A rare moment of tenderness, that, for the Carlyle family’s youngest daughter, its military commander and pre-eminent soldier, assassin and bodyguard. That’s what being a Lazarus entails.

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If Forever is formal it is because however effective she is in the field, her duties have deprived her of any emotional experience she might call her own. If she is nervous it is because she is finally allowing herself to have the first tentative steps of one with Joacquim Morray, Lazarus of the Morray family which may currently be allied to the Family Carlyle but which looks very likely to switch sides to the Carlyles’ most manipulative and bitter competition, Jakob Hock.

Then it won’t matter how respectful Joacquim is or how much Forever’s heart hurts: if their Families demand they fight, they will do so, if necessary to the death. That hasn’t happened yet but something so similar between others does, and it is heartbreaking.

It wouldn’t be half so affecting if GOTHAM CENTRAL’s Michael Lark couldn’t convey intimate and vulnerable affection as well as he commands the fluid balletics of hand-to-hand combat. Lark is equally adept at an actual dance, the other rare moment of tenderness preceding this scene which Jakob Hock – with his flair for the dramatic, the cruel and humiliating – interrupts to devastating effect.

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Oh, and the environment: Lark is one of my favourite landscape artists. His rain I rate up there with Eisner.

LAZARUS is set in the not-too-far future when the world has gone feudal again. Democracies have imploded, politicians no longer exist and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys people, money buys technology and money buys guns. Money, technology and guns buy power and control.

The strategy Greg Rucka has employed to introduce this grave new world to its readers has been impeccable: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure – the bottom-heavy pyramid of Family at the top, its wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs useful to Family prosperity, then the vast majority deemed and so dismissed as “waste” underneath. This third volume widens its outlook to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. See? Technology does buy power. You’d surely shift your allegiances for such a boon.

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And that’s what this instalment’s about: loyalty and allegiances. During a Conclave hosted by the British Family Armitage on a luxury rig in the North Sea you’ll get to meet twelve of the sixteen Families – or at least their representatives – and by golly their current conflicts form a complex Cat’s Cradle!

But what I relished above all in this chapter was seeing the Lazari interact with each other in their downtime before, during and after a poker game while their heads of Family debate without their feared presence behind closed doors. For if this is a reversion to a feudal society, so the notion of Chivalry has returned too: specifically the etiquette of safe passage and the respect of knights for each other and conduct towards each other regardless of their masters’ aggravations.

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This is evidently something that needs to be learned for there is a new Lazarus in their midst, one Captain Cristof Mueller who is arrogant and Aryan in a Teutonic way and he doesn’t care much for Li Jaolong, Lazarus of the Chinese Family Li, whose skills as a bodyguard he deems slim given that Li is – much like Professor Stephen Hawking – confined to a wheelchair and communicating via a speech synthesizer. Bristling from having been successfully played at poker, Mueller doesn’t mince his words which may include “genetic mistake”.

Yeah. Perhaps he should have considered that Jaolong wouldn’t have been selected as a Lazarus if he didn’t have certain compensatory skills. Cristof’s comeuppance is cathartic, I promise you!

Loyalties, then: Forever’s is to her family above and beyond all. LAZARUS VOL 2 ensured we understood both how and why. But is that loyalty reciprocated?

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While we find out I return you to our opening feature and kiss:

“I hope… I hope that was all right.”
“I was afraid…. I was afraid I would take of metal and oil.”
“That is not how you taste. Did I do it right?”
“Oh, yes. Very well indeed.
“You’re my first kiss.”
“And second. May I be your third?”
“Joacquim. I may not want to stop.”
“I may not want you to.”

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“I looked on him and I was not assured. I looked on him, and I was afraid.”

That’s Sister Bernard gazing up in contemplation at a dilapidated statue of Saint Christopher in a derelict cathedral in Havana.  He’s not just the patron saint of travellers, but of soldiers too: “A patron of holy death.”

There will plenty of travelling, a great many soldiers and blistering fire-fights in the most freezing conditions because Family Carlyle is about to go to war.

Before that, however, we must walk hundreds of miles in Sister Bernard’s pinching shoes. Nuns are given a degree of leeway by some Families to practise their faith and perform acts of medical charity for those without means – and most have no means – which involves travelling, In exchange for funding, Family Carlyle requests occasional favours from Sister Bernard whose mobility between borders makes her the perfect if petrified spy. She’s had no training and feels she has no aptitude – all she has is her faith, which here is tested to breaking point.

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Previously in LAZARUS:

In the not-too far future the world’s economies imploded, its political systems collapsed and the globe has been carved up between the sixteen wealthiest Families because money buys technology, money buys guns and money buys people, which together buy power.

It is a feudal system, an archetypal, bottom-heavy pyramid with Family at the top, a wafer-thin secondary layer of privileged serfs selected for their key skills below, then underneath the vast majority dismissed as “waste”.

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Family Carlyle has invested heavily in augmentation technology, bestowing it on youngest daughter Forever who now acts as their ultimate bodyguard, military commander and assassin. She’s been genetically enhanced with regenerative capabilities, trained to the peak of human physical fitness in both armed and unarmed combat and has been indoctrinated to believe that there is only one law: “Family Above All.”

The structure which Greg Rucka’s employed to introduce this grave new world has been impeccable, and it too has been a broadening pyramid: LAZARUS VOL 1 showed us the focal-point Family Carlyle and two sharp-toothed vipers in its nest; LAZARUS VOL 2 broadened its scope to societal structure and the means by which waste might elevate themselves to serfdom; LAZARUS VOL 3 widened its outlook yet again to the geopolitical set-up as decrepit old Jakob of Family Hock takes advantage of a schism within Family Carlyle by ransoming its one errant member while attempting to steal from his body the Longevity Code which has granted Family Carlyle and some of its serfs a vastly extended lifespan. We met many more Families, each with their own Lazarus / bodyguard, and a play was made which ensured that war was inevitable.

And now… for the shooty bits.

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Michael Lark’s landscapes are phenomenal, and the characters could not be more grounded in their landscapes. That’s vital for depicting urban warfare with its geographical opportunities and obstacles; its cover, its exposure and its range. In addition, he has a complete command of weather conditions – in this case a blizzard of snow – and an eye for carefully judged detail so that readers get a tangible sense of what the terrain feels like and what can and cannot be seen by individuals on the ground. That’s vital for immersion: targets and troop movements cannot be nebulous if you want readers’ blood pressure to rocket alongside the protagonists’.

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The key is in making you care and Rucka is equally adept at making it personal. Forever Carlyle has of course been deployed while the rest of the family desperately struggle with their own problems back at base. But she’s made some discoveries recently causing her to make a decision which could put everything and everyone in jeopardy, not least herself.

Speaking of revelations, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so shocked by a final page. It’s no deus ex machina, but proof of an audacious authorial slight-of-hand much earlier on which was so cleverly played by both writer and artist that I know of nobody who saw this one coming.

“Family Above All.”


Buy Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Archangel #1 (£3-99, IDW) by William Gibson & Butch Guice…

“Mr. Vice President, please remain still… as I remove the bandages. The final procedure was entirely successful. See for yourself.”
“Granddaddy was a good looking man.”
“They know nothing of D.N.A., so they’ll have no way of knowing you’re not him. You should have no difficulties assuming his identity.”

So why would the Vice President of the United States of America want to travel back in time to February 1945 and replace his relative, one Major Aloysius Henderson of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the C.I.A? Well, given it seems like there has been some sort of catastrophic global nuclear conflict, judging from the scenes of total devastation in Tokyo, Moscow and London that we get a glimpse of on the opening page dated February 2016, I suspect altering the course of history might be high on the VP’s to-do list. A list entitled ‘Archangel’.


Not that it seems everyone on the experimental Quantum Transfer project is of the same mindset. The chief scientist Torres, who seems to have a pretty good idea of precisely who is to blame for the current highly radioactive state of the environment, has just enough remaining quantum transfer juice to send a stealth fighter and two marines back as well, to try and foil the VP’s plot. Except whilst the first time jump works perfectly, the second, well, let’s just say there are some unexpected complications. The action then shifts to 1945 where the various Allied intelligence services find themselves with a rather perplexing puzzle to solve.


Fantastic opener from the acclaimed cyberpunk author, I’m certainly very intrigued. This has the serious speculative feel of say, Greg Rucka’s LAZARUS, which I think from the tone of the writing and cast of characters is probably the most obvious comparison to make. There are some great bits of dialogue too, particularly in the WW2 era between various spies who seem just as concerned with getting one over each other as dealing with the situation in hand, which also minded me of Brubaker’s VELVET. Gibson can certainly write comics, I have to say, based on this first issue.


The art from Butch Guice is excellent, fans of his work on THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA and WINTER SOLDIER will know what to expect. I always feel he’s like a slightly grittier version of Bryan Hitch though here he most reminds me of Michael Lark’s work on LAZARUS, actually.

[Editor’s interference: So true! Wait until you see the opening page’s bomb-blasted buildings. Combined with Tom Palmer’s as ever extraordinary inks, the textures are absolutely Lark. This series gets a triple thumbs-up from me, but then I was never too brilliant at biology. Gibson introduces a great many process pieces in the back, with gorgeous Guice character sketches.]


Buy Archangel #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Unfollow vol 1 (£10-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, R.M. Guera…

“It’s okay Rees, I removed your name from the 140.”
“Okay! You got me! You caught me, all right! I added myself to the 140 list… But you need me, Rubenstein. I programmed the app. You need me… You… Oh Christ… You’re going to do it, aren’t you?”


“One hundred forty characters. Now it can begin.”

Larry Ferrel is rich. Very rich. To the tune of 17 billion dollars, made through building social media platforms. He is also dying of pancreatic cancer. Which is why he has decided to donate his money. All of it. To 140 lucky people. That’s 120 million dollars each… I should probably add for the benefit of those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, 140 is the number of characters that a single tweet can contain, presumably explaining the conceit of the title.


But given it all starts with the execution of one of Larry’s loyal – well, not-so-loyal, actually – employees, by his gun-toting right-hand man Rubenstein, wearing an Aztec priest’s golden mask, the 120 million dollars is, one would suspect, going to come with a few strings attached. Such as possibly not living long enough to spend it.


And indeed once the 140 are all flown to Ferrel’s tropical island by a fleet of private jets the first catch rapidly starts to become painfully clear…

“You have all received an app on your phones and computers. It states the number of you left alive, currently 139…
“If the number shrinks to, say 138, your app will register this… your share will increase.
“And hypothetically, of course, were only one of you to be left alive, that individual would receive all of my money.
“In such a hypothetical scenario, that lone survivor would receive 18.42 billion dollars.
“All he would have to do is kill 138 people.
“But it’s not as if any of you would be willing to do that.
“Is it?”

So, I initially thought, we were going to be in very familiar Battle Royale-style territory, and indeed we are to a degree, especially given Ferrel’s stipulation that once he’s passed on to the great unknown and his loot been divvied up, if one of the 140 dies their money will be automatically returned to Ferrel’s estate and shared out again amongst the remaining survivors. At least that’s what Rubenstein says Ferrel wants… I can’t help getting a strong sense he might have his own deranged agenda going on, though. I mean, anyone wondering around in a terrifying shiny mask waving a weapon around is probably up to no good. But there’s a lot, lot more happening as well, such as the appearance of talking animal spirits to at least two of the ‘winners’. Quite how that factors in is, at this point, a complete mystery.


Then there’s the fact that the 140 don’t seem to be have been picked entirely at random, if at all. For example there’s a cross-dressing, blade-prosthetic-wearing, facially tattooed Japanese author who has noticed there are startling similarities between the plot of one of his novels and their current predicament. When he challenges Ferrel on this and receives acknowledgement that indeed he took inspiration from the book, it provokes the author to tell Ferrel he will do everything in his power to ensure the actual ending of the book doesn’t happen. Ominous.

My personal favourite, though, is the heavily armed former special forces solider who believes God is speaking to him and the Dragon who needs to be combated is everywhere. And indeed the final issue of this arc is mainly a flashback concerning his chequered history. The phrase wild card certainly springs to mind! This issue was an interesting change of pace and I suspect will be repeated from time to time with different characters. So by the end of this first volume we’ve probably only really been properly introduced to four or five of the 140, and we haven’t, ahem, lost too many yet. Just as well because I’m really enjoying this and I’d like it to run to several volumes! I can also see exactly why it was almost immediately picked up for a television show.


Art-wise, I can see some hints of Frank Quitely in Michael Dowling’s work, but the person I am mostly strongly minded of is Arthur MAZEWORLD (and sadly currently out of print BUTTONMAN) Ranson. It’s in the black linework, particularly the faces. Great opening volume, and this is exactly the high quality material Vertigo need to get back to putting out consistently if they want to seriously compete with the likes of Image.


Buy Unfollow vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

Incomplete Works (£14-99, Alternative Comics) by Dylan Horrocks

Disquiet s/c (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Ethan Van Sciver

Watching (£13-99, Soaring Penguin) by Winston Rowntree

Club Life In Moomin Valley (£7-50, Enfant) by Tove Jansson

Adam Sarlech Trilogy h/c (£25-99, Humanoids) by Frederic Bezian

Harrow County vol 2: Twice Told s/c (£10-99, Dark Horse) by Cullen Bunn & Tyler Crook

They’re Not Like Us vol 2 s/c (£10-99, Image) by Eric Stephenson & Simon Gane

Black Science vol 4: Godworld s/c (£10-99, Image) by Rick Remender & Matteo Scalera

Wayward vol 3: Out From The Shadows (£12-99, Image) by Jim Zub & Steven Cummings

Octopus Pie vol 4 (£10-99, Image) by Meredith Gran

Daredevil Vs Punisher: Means And Ends s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by David Lapham

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Ryan North, Chip Zdarsky & Erica Henderson

Crossed vol 16 s/c (£14-99, Avatar) by Max Bemis & Fernando Melek, German Erramouse, Mauro Vargas

Silver Surfer vol 1: New Dawn s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Dan Slott & Michael Allred

Rick And Morty vol 2 (£14-99, Oni) by Zac Gorman, Marc Ellerby & CJ Cannon & Andrew Maclean

Steven Universe vol 2 (£14-99, Kaboom) by Jeremy Sorese & Coleman Engle

Superman Adventures vol 2 s/c (£14-99, DC) by Scott McCloud, Mark Millar, others & various

Batgirl vol 2: Family Business s/c (£12-99, DC) by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher &  Babs Tarr, Bengal

Birthright vol 3: Allies s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan

Birthright vol 1: Call To Adventure s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan

Birthright vol 2: Homecoming s/c (£9-99, Image) by Joshua Williamson & Andrei Bressan


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ITEM! Buy Tickets for Dave McKean’s live multimedia performance of BLACK DOG – THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH in Kendal this Saturday 28th May 2016!

I have a copy of the Lakes International Comic Art Festival limited edition of the graphic novel and it is glorious!

If you want a copy of that limited edition (only 300 copies printed), as things stand, you will have to be in Kendal, Cumbria, this weekend. Otherwise you’ll have to wait for the regular edition from Dark Horse which will launched at The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, October 14-16 2016.

What? Do you think I’m holding out on you? That’s the only way to guarantee yourself a copy!

But look, you can get it signed! For free!

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ITEM! Dave McKean BLACK DOG – THE DREAMS OF PAUL NASH graphic novel talk and book signing is FREE on Sunday May 29th 2016 but you will need to book tickets here.

There will, possibly, be a rather fun and most certainly exclusive news update on this graphic novel this time next week, right here.

So maybe I am holding out on you.


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– Stephen

Page 45 is a proud Patron of The Lakes International Comic Art Festival. We appear every year, exclusively.

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week three

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Gilbert Hernandez & Darwyn Cooke, Farel Dalrymple, Neill Cameron, Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo, Malachi Ward, Michel Rabagliati, Antony Johnston & Shari Chankhamma, Ellis, Ennis, Gibbons & John Higgins, Phil Jimenez, Tim Bradstreet, Marcelo Frusin, Gary Erskine, Paul Pope, more!

Pop Gun War: Gift (£10-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple.

“No bird soars too high if he soars on his own wings.”

 – William Blake, from The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell


An inspired and inspirational black and white classic from 2003 – with some pages coloured for the Italian edition by Fazi Editore – which proudly proclaims freedom, individuality and self-expression.

It comes with a double-barrelled defiance towards those who would dilute, control or own others including the young outright.

Here is the sinister, manipulative and disingenuous Mr Grimshaw from “a magnificent corporation” who has already ruined the dreams of those with long-term, creative goals by appealing to their immediate gratification. One of them is now living on the street. Another, I infer, is so bitter that he seeks to spite others while wearing a ball and chain.

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“Gentleman, really listen to what your heart is saying. Give her your time.”

In front of the children – whom he has weaned away from someone with something to say – he produces the head of Medusa:

“Try to be rock and roll
“Throw trash on the ground.
“You will look cool.
“Walk slow. Act tough.
“Don’t think too much.”

For that would be inconvenient.

“Maybe even smoke a cigarette.”

The ultimate in poisonous, corporate indoctrination.

Please don’t think this is heavy. It is as light as an air-born feather and full of space, although its images do allude to that very space between buildings and the light which is lost under their sun-blocking edifices.

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Down below, the grottiness is seen from ground-level. Ground-level…? Dumpster-level from which the trashed are lucky to escape.

There are so many moments, however, when the protagonists rise above it in ways which will make you wonder, and the collected edition is introduced by the sort of detailed three-dimensional, illustrative map of the city island, full of architectural detail and surrounding geographical features, which makes the imagination soar. How many more stories are left to be told?

Here’s what our Mark wrote back in 2003:

“No pop, no guns and no war, but a dreamy meandering through an urban landscape. An angel falls to earth and asks for his wings to be chain-sawed off, leaving stumps behind to remind him of his former life. Little Sinclair, smart and out of place in the city with his sharp shirt and bow-tie, adopts the wings and ties them to his back. It’s not every day that you manage to scavenge such fine quarry. Fleeing from a gang of kids he finds himself on a precipice and finds that the wings still work, even when borrowed.

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“That’s just one of the magical touches of this book. You get a roaming mad monk, a huge flying fish (with glasses) and Emily, Sinclair’s little sister, who is becoming a local star with her band, The Emilies.

“The art captures the grit and grime of a big, impersonal city, managing to strike a balance of realism and magic that stops the characters being lifeless illustrations. For a first major work it’s impressive if rambling but marks Dalrymple as one to watch out for.”

As prescient as ever, our Mark. Since then I give you:

THE WRENCHIES, IT WILL ALL HURT (which I thought we’d reviewed), DELUSIONAL and so much more.

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Throughout I was put in mind of Eddie Campbell, specifically in this case BACCHUS.

It’s not just names like Sunshine Montana, but the sight of pint-sized, debonair Sunshine Montana in his old-fashioned top hat and tails wandering around a contemporary city in search of his errant friend, Percy the floating, bespectacled goldfish. When Sunshine Montana opens the basement door oh so dubiously he is a spitting image of Campbell’s Eyeball Kid – albeit with but the regular requisite complement of eyes. And they have a reputation which seems to precede them.

“Hello, Sunny,” says The Rich Kid.
“May I?” asks Sunny, opening The Kid’s car door.
“Not if you’re going to make fun of me.”
“I would rather make fun of someone who has a sense of humour.”

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If you think that Montana is hitching a lift, I’d remind you of the more famous SUNNY in comics, the stranded Sunny Datsun which fuels the kids imagination. Here too the car is suspended on breeze blocks, going nowhere. It’s the perfect final panel to any page, neatly undercutting everything you’d supposed that far.

I’m delighted to report that it’s that sort of graphic novel.


Buy Pop Gun War: Gift and read the Page 45 review here

Twilight Children s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Gilbert Hernandez & Darwyn Cooke…

“I knew it, I knew it.”
“Bundo’s not in his house.”
“Maybe the big ball took him away with it.”
“If we’re lucky. Or maybe Bundo’s a complete idiot.”
“Call the Institute and tell them to cancel their visit.”
“I did, but they still want to send someone. A scientist, at least.”
“I still want people to stay away from the spot where the ball sat. We don’t know what this scientist will find out.”
“Yes, sheriff.”

Well, little did we all know that this was to be Darwyn Cooke’s swansong, but what a glorious and triumphant swansong it is. When I heard that Vertigo, amongst the many new titles, were putting out a mini-series penned by Gilbert Hernandez and drawn by Darwyn Cooke, I knew it was inevitably going to be something wonderful and so it proved.


The story, featuring a strange glowing orb that appears and vanishes in a remote coastal South American village – apparently at random, sometimes seemingly taking people with it – is a humorous, quirky take on the classic alien invasion theme. Or hopefully the prevention thereof… In addition to the vanishing locals, the orb is also prone to the odd explosion and has blinded a group of children. They don’t seem to be remotely distressed though, strangely enough…


Meanwhile, how does the sudden appearance of a mysterious beautiful woman tie in with the orb? Everyone seems very willing to help her, perhaps a little too willing. Well, except for the local femme fatale who’s none too happy to see someone with even greater powers of persuasion pop up on her pitch! Sure, it could be the classic small town good manners at work, but it seems like there might be a little more to it than that. Throw in a very bizarre pair of not-so-undercover CIA agents and a smooth young scientist sent to investigate for good measure and it’s a curious scenario indeed.


Gilbert is on top form here, you can tell he is having great fun writing the various characters and their tangled, titillating parochial lives. That’s his stock in trade, mind you! Darwyn Cooke, meanwhile, is simply on fire artistically. It’s the slightly softer style he applied when working on his non-PARKER material, such as CATWOMAN with Ed Brubaker or the annoyingly currently out of print DC: THE NEW FRONTIER, (softcover reprint coming in July!) that you always felt was full of such fun.


A mention for colourist Dave Stewart, who along with Elizabeth Breitweiser, is the best in the business. Between them they perfectly capture that sunshine filled, sleepy backwater feel. It made me want to go mix myself a margarita! The sort of place where nothing of any great significance ever happens, so every little bit of intrigue and gossip, true or otherwise, is salaciously devoured, before being promptly forgotten. The perfect place for an alien invasion beachhead to establish itself perhaps…



Buy Twilight Children s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Mega Robo Bros vol 1 (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron…

Published June 2nd!

“ALEX! FREDDY! COME ON! We should have left five minutes ago!”
“But Dad! Freddy tore my comic!”
“It’s my comic!”
“No, you swapped it me for my Ankylosaurus!”
“That was for a lend, not for keeps!”
“Well then I want my Ankylosaurus back!”
“BOYS! We’re going to be late! Never mind about the comic!”
“But what about the Ankylosaurus?”
“Jeez, Dad, you don’t have to shout.”
“Robot hearing, remember?”

First day back at school for a new term and after the comic capers, of course Mega Robo Bros Alex and his younger brother Freddy miss the bus. Dad knows he’s going to be in deep trouble with Mum, a government scientist, as the boys are only too happy to remind him. The only alternative is letting the boys fly there unsupervised, after a stern talking-to about not fighting on the way… It couldn’t go that wrong surely?

“… Three hours late, and completely soaking wet when they got here. It’s not a great start to term, is it?”
“I really am terribly sorry, Headteacher. I had to, um, go and fish them out of the Thames. There was an incident.”
“Sorry, miss. You see Freddy tore my comic…”
“It’s my comic!”

Haha, that comic gag is a great running joke that keeps on giving throughout.


Well, this might just be my favourite PHOENIX PRESENTS story so far. It has all the requisite ridiculous humour that the kids demand, but it’s a really great story as well. I would actually put this on a par with the likes of THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN as an exceptional all-ages read.

Alex and Freddy are robots: the only sentient ones in existence, created by the late Doctor Roboticus. After his mysterious passing they were adopted by Doctor Sharma and her husband. But just like every single set of new parents, Doctor and Mr. Sharma had absolutely no idea just what they were letting themselves in for…


Neil has captured the essence of two continually bickering, mischievous brothers perfectly here. It just so happens these battling boys can shoot lasers beams from their hands, punch through walls and fly through the sky! Mainly whilst arguing with each other! They’ll need those skills to rescue the public from sky trains plunging towards the pavement, rampaging robotic dinosaurs roaming the National History Museums and much more besides. For it seems someone, or something, with an ulterior motive is testing them… and it’s not just the bullies at their school who are determined to verbally torment them for being different. It does take great restraint not to zap a bully with your in-built laser, mind you…

I continually found myself chuckling at Neill’s dialogue, particularly the ever exuberant Freddy with his ridiculous made-up songs involving poo. He is quite the expert at picking the most inopportune moment to debut them to his parents. And I can completely understand exactly how his brother Alex spends half his time protectively looking out for Freddy then the other half wanting to exasperatedly atomise him. A typical annoying younger sibling, then! Together though, when engaged in their dynamic duelling against all and sundry they make a most formidable team, with Freddy prolifically popping out pithy punchlines in a manner a certain Peter Parker would approve of! The interior cover sums it up perfectly with the pair of them stood outside their front door, Freddy excitedly blasting a couple of feet into the air, heels clicking, fists pumping, Alex just staring at him, hands in pockets, irritated.


This is brilliant fun, a supremely well written romp, that also has much to say about tolerance for our fellow man, and err… robot, and it’s just as fantastically and vibrantly illustrated. The action sequences are a joy to behold with about as much carefully choreographed mechanical mayhem as I think I’ve ever seen on page after page of comics. Neill’s future London with lanes of flying, red double-decker buses and robotic Coldstream guards replete with bearskin hats looks a fabulously crazy place. Oh, and his take on the future Royal Family made me grin very broadly indeed. I look forward to the next volume!


Buy Mega Robo Bros vol 1  and read the Page 45 review here

Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird h/c (£10-99 UK s/c, 18-99 US h/c, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo.

Have you ever had trouble with your scalp? Itchy? Nits? Dandruff, perhaps?

“It started a few weeks ago. I thought it was just a rash, but then it grew teeth and bit my hairbrush. I went to the Emergency Ward, but they screamed and threw bedpans at me.”

Poor Zelma Stanton! She’s a librarian from the Bronx and, after hesitating on its threshold, she appears to have brought quite the infestation to Doctor Strange’s architecturally outré mansion. But then it was never very safe in the first place.

“The Sanctum Sanctorum is the greatest concentration of occult esoteric and mystical phenomena in existence.
“It should go without saying, but do not touch anything you see, except the floor. And be careful where you step.
“In this house, simply opening the wrong door could literally unleash Hell on Earth.
“And then there’s the refrigerator. Seriously, don’t get anywhere near my refrigerator.”

Fruity and flamboyant, this is a comedy accessible to all. Like Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee’s self-contained INHUMANS graphic novel, it has a tried and tested appeal well beyond its Marvel Comics confines and you need know nothing before its Sanctum Sanctorum.

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But since we are in the business of beginnings: here, let me help you.

Doctor Stephen Strange was once a surgeon.

In a way he still is. It’s just that the cancers he cuts from infested individuals are now more mystical in nature and often come with a great deal of grumpy attitude, several sets of serrated teeth and breath that stinks of sulphur. But I believe we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

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As a highly skilled and sought-after medical doctor Stephen had an ego like nobody’s business until an accident crippled the nerves in his hands. He searched the furthest and most inaccessible corners of the globe for a miracle cure – which is an odd thing to do for a man of science or even basic geometry – and found instead The Ancient One, after which he earned his place as Master Of The Mystic Arts and the Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.

“The nerve damage never healed properly.
“My hands still ache and tremble most of the time.
“Which is why my handwriting is beyond atrocious, even for a doctor.”

Anyway, as our story opens, instead of an ego he now has a libido, even when confronted by an insectoid laydee sucking away at the soul of a comatose boy. What does our Stephen Strange do?

“Quietly casting a spell of romantic divination to confirm my suspicions. I think she’s into me.”

Hmmm. I think the ego’s intact.

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He cures this poor lad but is then set upon by a gigantic, transdimensional lamprey. Easily dispatched. Easily, but messily.

So there’s the soul eaters, the leech and now those ravenous mouths growing out of Zelma Stanton’s head, wreaking havoc all over the mansion. His grimoires are dying, his magic is failing. Something is seriously wrong.

What is wrong is this: Stephen has forgotten a very important lesson taught by the Ancient One long, long, ago. The laws of physics apply equally to magic: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

“The harder you punch, the more it hurts you.
“If a normal punch takes a physical toll on the one who throws it, what do you imagine the price of casting a spell to be?”

For years now Doctor Strange has been casting defensive and offensive spells willy-nilly. In the back of his mind he’s known there is a price to be paid but he’s brushed all that under the mystical carpet and buried his head in the sand. And now it is far too late.

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From the writer of SCALPED and SOUTHERN BASTARDS, this is by far the best book of DOCTOR STRANGE I’ve ever read. Aaron has learned Matt Fraction’s HAWKEYE lessons well: if you want to make superhero comics more mainstream with a much wider appeal, then sever them from extraneous continuity no one can keep up with, make them fun, full of foibles and a humanity we can all comprehend.

It is also breath-takingly beautiful. How could it be otherwise from the artist of Neil Gaiman’s DEATH?

Chris Bachalo brings you exquisitely crisp if not brittle, late-summer leaves and colours them to senescent perfection. Yes, even the season is in synch with the story. They’re being tugged from the trees opposite a mansion which you might malinger outside as well.

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Within you’ll find precarious towers of leather-bound books, stacked like a spiral staircase free-floating in space. The actual staircases have been designed by Escher.

The dying realms are truly ashen. It might be nuclear but it’s certainly not a natural winter, more like a volcano erupted across the void, its particles dispersed on invisible, cosmic currents to smother all colour in dust.

Something or someone has harboured a long-festering grudge against magic and is now taking revenge. Across the dimensions it has travelled, executing Sorcerer Supremes, sending waves of pathogenic pestilence ahead of itself, eating away at the fabric of hyper-reality and bleeding its energies dry.

“When all the birds fly away in a hurry, get ready for a storm.
“So if these are still just the birds…. what the hell is that storm going to look like?”


“Some days it sucks to be Strange.”


Buy Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Buy Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird h/c and read the Page 45 review here

From Now On (£10-99, Alternative Comics) by Malachi Ward…

Thirteen stylishly illustrated time-twisting science fiction tales from Brandon Graham’s PROPHET and ISLAND contributor and cohort. This is much more understated material than the mentalism that is PROPHET. Each yarn here is more of a vignette, though I did start to realise with great delight that a few of the stories do… overlap (I think might be the right choice of word) even if the protagonists don’t remotely realise it. It’s relatively gently told stuff, but I do mean that in a positive sense. Both in terms of the overall feel of the collection and some of the art, I was actually minded of Ethan Reilly’s POPE HATS much more than, say, Box Brown’s equally enjoyable AN ENTITY OBSERVES ALL THINGS, which is actually the sort of sanity shaking shenanigans I was expecting.




So whilst the stories are ostensibly science fiction, they are all really character pieces, set against the backdrop of timey-wimey weirdness. In more than a few cases, it has all gone horribly pear-shaped and the characters are somewhere on the sliding scale of trying to pick up the pieces / make the best of a bad situation / desperately avoid a rather painful demise. Some of the stories are definitely more convoluted than others in terms of plot, but overall it’s an excellent eclectic spread of different things you can do with a loose conceit.




There are some substantial variations on the art style from story to story too which was a nice touch. Half the tales are black and white, the other half are coloured. A couple reminded me of Chester Brown, some of Joe Daly, also Ethan Reilly as mentioned, plus a bit of Matt Kindt here and there, especially on the coloured strips, and even Ray Fawkes. Malachi is clearly a very versatile and talented artist. Highly recommended.





Buy From Now On and read the Page 45 review here

Paul Goes Fishing (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michel Rabagliati.

An ancient review from when this was first published, this particular graphic novel keeps disappearing off our website, we know not why! Honestly: if you see it, snag it, before it slips our hooks again.

I’ve never read any of the previous PAUL books but Mark was deeply enamoured, and now I know why: Rabagliati is a French-Canadian Andi Watson in thought and word and visual deed. Indeed this could almost be a prequel to LITTLE STAR, with Paul and Lucie expecting a baby, along with their friends Peter and France.

I know the titles sound as if they’re from some early-learning Ladybird range (PAUL JOINS THE SCOUTS, PAUL HAS A SUMMER JOB etc.), but nothing could be further from these considered musings, memories and affectionate tributes to those Paul knows and loves. It’s all about how we interact with one another and – as it is with Watson in BREAKFAST AFTERNOON, LITTLE STAR and SLOW NEWS DAY – work is high on the agenda, which is only natural given that we spend so much of our lives hard at it.

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Paul’s brother-in-law, Clément, for example, works in the aviation industry which used to be about a whole team of enthusiastic specialists using their innovative nous to design and build new Canadian aircraft. But then the Production Specialists – bean counters with no knowledge of or interest in the aviation industry – were brought in from outside, and the layoffs began in their hundreds, followed by further mechanisation, just-in-time production, inventory reduction and subcontracting abroad. Sound familiar?*

Similarly, Paul has seen his own work as a designer change dramatically over the last twenty years following the rise of the multipurpose Mac during the late ’80s and ’90s, with the consequent loss of jobs in the different disciplines of colour separation, typography etc. The production office would be somewhere for the exuberant exchange of ideas, knowledge, projects or just human chit-chat. Now Paul works alone in his studio on his Apple Mackintosh. He doesn’t even have to venture out for research: he can do it all online.

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These little histories of himself and his friends are sprinkled throughout the main narrative as Paul takes a break from work and leaves Montreal for the pastoral pleasures of fishing, where he and Lucie find Lucie’s sister Monique, her husband Clément (quite the expert angler) and their two daughters already relaxing on the lakeside. Even here, however, it’s surprisingly artificial, and the tranquillity is occasionally rocked by a lack of basic consideration or – in the case of a couple of young delinquents overindulged by their parents – by acts of shocking barbarity. Even the rain halts play for a while (though I have to disagree here – rain on water? I’ve been in heaven!), but none of this prepared me for what suddenly happens next. In hindsight it’s foreshadowed, but I won’t say with what, although I’ve done a little of it myself in this review.

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What I will say is that within pages of beginning the book I had completely forgotten the existence of any prologue, let alone what it was (it centres around a church collection box), and it was only with the last two or three pages that I remembered…

So, very highly recommended and a new discovery for me. I shall have to go back and read the other PAUL books now.

*Immigration, historically, has never been the cause of mass unemployment. It’s mechanisation – technology – and always has been since the Industrial Revolution.


Buy Paul Goes Fishing and read the Page 45 review here

Hellblazer vol 13: Haunted (£18-99, Vertigo) by Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Darko Macan, Paul Jenkins, Dave Gibbons & John Higgins, Phil Jimenez, Tim Bradstreet, Marcelo Frusin, Gary Erskine, Paul Pope, Andy Lanning, Javier Pulido, James Romberger, Frank Teran, Dave Gibbons.

Once upon a time – when DC was cherry-picking, reprinting bits and bobs rather than the whole series in order – there was a HELLBLAZER book called HAUNTED which reprinted the first slither here by Ellis and Higgins, but this is much meatier and grows increasingly rank. So sordid are some of these additional tales that one can only shake one’s head at DC’s decision initially to spike the short story ‘Shoot’ by Ellis & Jimenez which has since seen publication and does so once again.

It was at the time a long overdue return to the roots of a very British, anti-establishment title which mixed occult horror with the very real and repugnant nightmares of racism, homophobia, homelessness, other assorted social deprivations, callousness, cruelty and cover-ups. Ellis immediately stamped upon it a recognisable spirit of place.

“And all over London the sirens start and the cries go out and the tears don’t dry and everyone looks up to find that the sky’s so stained with streetlight that you can’t see the stars anymore.”

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John Constantine, working class wide-boy and ruthless manipulator – a middle-aged trouble-magnet in a mustard-coloured trenchcoat – returns to London to find that an ex-girlfriend has made the headlines… as the victim of a particularly gruesome, sexually charged murder. Her ghost haunts the playground where she was happiest, before she’d met John, before he gave her the first taste of magic which may have led her to down the road to her death. Pulling in favours from Scotland Yard (for which there is always a price to be paid) Constantine comes into possession of her diary which details her seduction by an Aleister Crowley aficionado who began manipulating her perception, alienating her from her friends and using her for his own occult purposes.

For someone with John’s esoteric knowledge it’s not hard to figure out how, what or why. He even knows the who. But he’s going to have to call in a lot of favours and get his own and others’ hands dirty before he can lay Isabel to rest.

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Ellis evokes a London whose very foundations are soaked in spilled blood, and populates the city with a fresh cast of supporting characters or – as regular HELLBLAZER readers refer to them – victims-in-waiting, for hanging around with Constantine is lethal. Nor does he waste any time in shoving the boot into Labour’s successively right-wing Home Secretaries through the mouth of dodgy copper Watford:

“Things get worse every bleedin’ day. It’s like Maggie never left office. Lovely jubbly.”

It’s this string of friendship fatalities which PREACHER’s Garth Ennis and THE NAO OF BROWN’s Glyn Dillon exhume in the back of this collection when Constantine reflects on the sorry circumstances that led Gary Lester, Emma, Nigel and Rick The Vic into John’s poisonous path. If anyone can ill-afford to become sentimental now, it’s Constantine. Thank goodness his Kit got away.

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Before that Ellis further examines the power of storytelling and depths of credulity: with artist Tim Bradstreet when John interrupts a writer’s account of how he came into contact with the crib of the anti-Christ stillborn a year before baby Jesus popped unopposed onto the scene; and with Marcelo Frusin as another scribe seeks a scoop on the serpentine heritage of our beloved royal family. Oh, and I mentioned a price to be paid, didn’t I? In a bedroom in Hackney a man has taken eight days to kill two low-level thieves in very imaginative ways. Landlords, eh?

The other chief attraction is, as I say, the reprint of Warren Ellis & Phil Jimenez’s ‘Shoot’ which tackled child-on-child gun crime. Written and drawn before whichever the bloody massacre was back then, it was deemed too topical to print, which is precisely why it should have been printed in the first place. Heaven forefend that DC ever grows balls and proves topical.

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A woman is reviewing video tapes of school shootings in order to address a Senate Committee with her judgement as to why they are happening. But she just can’t see it and keeps going back to the audio tape on which Reverend Jim Jones persuades his congregation, all nine hundred and fourteen men, women and children, to commit mass suicide.

“It’s deciding what to blame, you know? Blame the parents for keeping a gun in the house? Not without blaming the constitution and pulling the NRA’s chain.”
“The movies, the video games, the comicbooks…”
“More killers fixate and draw inspiration from the Bible than any other piece of culture.”
“So if I did a Nintendo thing called “Flying Chainsaw Jesus” I’d be rich?”
“Ew. And you’ve got kids.”
“And that’s how I oughta know. You oughta see the little bastards playing their video games. Eyes bright, teeth bared, like wolves tearing up a sheep.”
“It’s not the games that do it, Brian.”

No, it’s not. Nor, I can assure you, does this have anything to do with our John or any hocus pocus whatsoever. That would have made this an awful Constantine story, and a complete cop-out on what it is another very real, real-world horror.

The only uncanny thing about John’s involvement is that he’s there at the site of every recent child-child slaying, but he’s only there to see for himself why they are doing it as a favour to a friend whose own boy got blown away, and I believe both John and Warren are absolutely on the nail.

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Jimenez owns this story as much as Ellis: without his pitch-perfect expressions, particularly the last one, it couldn’t have worked. Now please see Andrew Vachss’ HEART TRANSPLANT (at a mere £4-99) if you want to learn the truth about early self-esteem and bullying.


Buy Hellblazer vol 13: Haunted and read the Page 45 review here

Codename Baboushka vol 1: Conclave Of Death s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Shari Chankhamma.

“You might think she’s a hero.
“That would be a mistake.”

The back and interior covers screamed James Bond title sequence. We’ll return to that in a minute. I thought it was terrific marketing but prefer the honesty of cover art like this which reflects what lies within.

From the writer of UMBRAL, WASTELAND, THE FUSE and its colourist on full art duties here, this a marked departure from Johnston’s other espionage outings like THE COLDEST CITY. As Antony mentioned a few months ago THE COLDEST CITY’s star “pulls a gun precisely three times, only shoots once, and doesn’t hit a thing”. Baboushka will be shooting, hitting, poisoning and blowing many, many things – and by ‘things’ I mean people.

“I promise you, these earrings are dynamite.”

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She’ll be doing so swiftly, methodically and effectively without the art once losing its femininity. Chankhamma’s faces put me in mind of Kate Brown (FISH + CHOCOLATE, TAMSIN AND THE DEEP, THE WICKED + THE DIVINE etc) and she luxuriates in the Contessa’s scarlet high heels, tiered pearl necklace and flesh-coloured dress then throws everything she’s got – just like the security guards – at Baboushka in the field.

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What might take a moment to drop like the proverbial penny is that the first chapter’s 80-mile-an-hour action sequence isn’t part of the main event – it isn’t the titular Conclave of Death which Contessa Annika Malikova is being blackmailed to infiltrate by the American government. That will come later on a luxury liner which the general public – innocent, pleasure-seeking holiday makers – are going to rue boarding. There the instructions issued by her man-handlers from EON (Extrajudicial Operations Network) are not to assassinate the retiring ex-CIA gun-runner called Felton, but persuade him to sell her his secrets.

“You’ll have all my routes and contacts, across the whole world. Names and details of every politician I ever squeezed, every government I ever sold to or blackmailed.”

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All these are very much on the table for the highest bidder – including a sub-Saharan warlord, a European gang chief, a member of the Yazuka and a certain Scottish master thief whom the Contessa’s bumped into before – but Felton would never sell to the Americans. He might, however, sell them to the notorious mafiya boss Baboushka if she came out of retirement. Guess which guise Contessa Annika Malikova used to go by back in Russia?

The prologue, then, is a signature move designed to attract Felton’s attention, working precisely like those James Bond opening action-fests leading straight into the films’ title sequences as Codename Baboushka comes out of retirement in spectacular fashion.

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So far, so good. Unfortunately no one’s prepared for piracy – and that’s pretty prevalent right now. I hope the Contessa can keep Felton alive…

As a young-teen-orientated thriller akin to Antony’s Alex Rider graphic novels with elements of a blazing Tomb Raider adventure, this works very well. It’s emphatically not Brubaker & Epting’s VELVET – there’s far too much melodrama and explication in the dialogue for that – but it could very tempt some of the action-orientated manga merchants to look west.

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Buy Codename Baboushka vol 1: Conclave Of Death s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

A City Inside (£7-50, Avery Hill Publishing) by Tillie Walden

Stray Bullets vol 5: Hi-Jinks & Derring-Do s/c (£14-99, Image) by David Lapham

Broken Frontier Small Press Yearbook 2016 (£6-00, Broken Frontier) by Rozi Hathaway, Jess Milton, Danny Noble, Emma Raby, Alice Urbino, Adam Vian, Rebecca Bagley, Kim Clements, Gareth Brookes, Gill Hatcher, Jessica Martin, Mike Medaglia, EdieOP, Owen D. Pomery, Alex Potts, Paul B. Rainey, Donya Todd

Highbone Theater h/c (£25-99, Fantagraphics) by Joe Daly

Lazarus: The Second Collection h/c (£29-99, Image) by Greg Rucka & Michael Lark

ODY-C vol 2: Sons Of The Wolf s/c (£10-99, Image) by Matt Fraction & Christian Ward

Apocrypha Now h/c (£14-99, Top Shelf) by Jun Maeda & Yuriko Asami

Bird Boy vol 1: Sword Of Mali Mani (£7-50, Dark Horse) by Anne Szabla

BPRD Hell On Earth vol 13 – End Of Days (£14-99, Dark Horse) by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Laurence Campbell

Parsley Girl: Carrots (£6-00, Avery Hill Publishing) by Matthew Swan

Something New: Tales From A Makeshift Bride (£14-99, FirstSecond) by Lucy Knisley

Star Wars: Kanan vol 2 – First Blood (£13-50, Marvel) by Greg Weisman & Pepe Larraz, Mark Brooks

Unfollow vol 1  (£10-99, Vertigo) by Rob Williams & Michael Dowling, R.M. Guera

Artificial Flowers (£9-99, Avery Hill Publishing) by Rachael Smith

Zodiac Starforce: By The Power Of Astra s/c (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Kevin Panetta & Paulina Ganucheau

Batman War Games vol 2 s/c (£25-99, DC) by Ed Brubaker, Bill Willingham, Dylan Horrocks, Bruce Jones, Andersen Gabrych & various

The Flash By Geoff Johns vol 2 s/c (£18-99, DC) by Geoff Johns & Scott Kolins

The Joker: Endgame s/c (£18-99, DC) by Scott Snyder, various & Greg Capullo, various

Wonder Woman vol 7: War Torn s/c (£12-99, DC) by Meredith Finch & David Finch, Goran Sudzuka

All New Inhumans vol 1: Global Outreach s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule, James Asmus & Stefano Casselli

Doctor Strange vol 1: The Way Of The Weird (UK Edition) s/c (£10-99, Marvel) by Jason Aaron & Chris Bachalo

The Tick: The Complete Edlund (£26-99, NEC) by Ben Edlund

Blue Exorcist vol 15 (£6-99, Viz) by Kazue Kato

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 1: Phantom Blood h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2: Battle Tendency h/c (£12-99, Viz) by Hirohiko Araki

One Piece vol 78 (£6-99, Viz) by Eiichiro Oda

One-Punch Man vol 6 (£6-99, Viz) by One & Yusuke Murata


Philip Pullman

ITEM! Philip Pullman on Why I Love Comics including excerpts from his series in THE PHOENIX COMIC WEEKLY!

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ITEM! Diversity in comics featuring GIANT DAYS, LUMBERJANES, THE BACKSTAGERS etc in The New York Times!

That’s not some token article, either, it addresses women and LGBT content in comics not just for adults. Hooray!

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ITEM! Comicbook creators! Hiveworks is now accepting submissions until 15th June!

“Hiveworks is a creator owned publisher and studio that helps webcomic and online media creators turn their creative endeavors into sustainable businesses. We serve as mentors and as a home for many comics.”

Opportunity knocks etcetera!

– Stephen

Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week two

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016

Featuring Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill, Kieron Gillen & Ignacio Calero, Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott, Sarah Andersen, Simon Hanselmann, Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen, Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood, Pierre Maurel, Sylviane Corgiat & Corrado Mastantuono, Brian K Vaughn & Steve Skroce and more!

Black Magick vol 1: Awakening (£7-50, Image) by Greg Rucka & Nicola Scott with Chiara Arena.

“You going to invite me in?”
“That’s vampires, Alex… Besides, the house knows you.”
“You might’ve set wards.”
“Not yet.”
“That didn’t sound like a joke… Ro? Are you serious?”
“I’m being targeted. Someone… someone is coming for me.”

There’s something about the way that Detective Rowan Black announces her presence at the hostage scene. As she settles into the headphones and mike, her eyes become hooded, staring into a distance measured not just in metres, but in years. Many, many years.

“I’m here” comes with far more weight than a mere “I can hear you.”

Less than an hour ago, she wasn’t anywhere near hostages in the burger bar on McKenna.

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Less than an hour ago Detective Rowan Black was celebrating the balance of the spirit and the flesh, the cycle of death and rebirth, “The Lady and the Lord entwined and entranced, beloved and belonging…” with her the rest of her coven, sequestered in a forest under the crisp light of a full white moon…

Then her mobile phone went off.

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From the writer of LAZARUS. Had I not known, then I would never have guessed it. I don’t mean to impugn the quality here; I mean to commend a writer’s refreshing versatility. I can perceive little connection between the two in style or content, only in the depth of research involved.

For fans of RACHEL RISING we are once more in the realms of witches. Witches who historically have not been well received, so obvious Rowan’s department hasn’t the first fucking clue.

This deliberately, specifically, seeks to juxtapose the contemporary, the clinical, the procedural and the professional with the personal, the spiritual, the historical and arcane which may seem completely at odds or, if not merely at odds then worse: dangerously misaligned.

And now these worlds will collide.

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Oh, you may think on first reading that Nicola Scott’s painted art with its deep motorcycle tyre treads and perfect pelvises is monochromatic, but look again! For a start it’s certainly not black and white, but the softest of warm, natural colours like sable, rabbit pelt and antler grey. The architecture’s very plush. Nobody’s short of a few bob here, not least our Rowan – wait until you witness Rowan’s cubbyhole of grimoires and other esoteric objects! – who probably couldn’t afford all that on a Portsmouth Police pay packet, no.

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Yes, the colouring is restrained, reserved for maximum impact during moments of magic and sudden conflagration when Chiara Arena really lets rip. When that protective ward is finally cast it is breath-taking, sublime. When Rowan glamours a blank silver zippo lighter – freshly engraved with a distracting sigil to disguise it as the police evidence she’s about to purloin – it glows a feint turquoise which only the reader and Rowan can see. Nichole certainly can’t even though she’s looking straight at it. I love implication and inference, don’t you?

But when the hostage taker has secured Rowan alone at the beginning of the book and drops that damned zippo, lit, into the kerosene, the result is truly incandescent.

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“There’s something off with this guy.”
“I think taking hostages was the first clue.”

No, there’s something very seriously off with that guy, and the third clue was kerosene. The second was asking for Detective Rowan Black by name.

His own was Rowan White, by the way, and none of this did he do voluntarily.

“Alex? It’s me.
“It’s starting again.”


Buy Black Magick vol 1: Awakening and read the Page 45 review here

Descender vol 2: Machine Moon (£10-99, Image) by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen.

“This is so… weird. I’ve never seen a book on paper. Why do you like reading them like this? Feels so… fake.”
“I don’t know. Mom used to read them to Andy and me before bed. I grew to enjoy it.”

Any science fiction worth its salty credit chips will not only make you think of the future ahead but ponder the present right in front of you. Different perspectives can be so useful in making you reconsider your own or appreciate it in greater depth.

I’m of an age where reading anything other than printed paper still seems artificially, tinny, awkward and fake: even reviews on a computer screen but most certainly prose or comics on a tablet! To our two robotic boys fashioned to mimic as closely as possible ten-year-olds in order to become perfect companions for humans, young or old, anything other than a straight digital download is going to seem clumsy and impure.

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But of course the Tim series’ emotive abilities were enhanced to adapt and expand, and Tim-21’s experience as a brother to human colonist Andy has left him missing his absent friend terribly. The picture book Tim-21 salvaged from his former colony stars Trinket Tocket And His Tin Rocket, a nod towards another young android, Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy. As Tim-22 excitably dashes off leaving his new companion alone, Tim-21’s artificial fingers trace the wobbly, handwritten inscription below the printed “This book belongs to”:

“Andy Tavers and Tim-21”.

Their friendship bonded in a book for all to see, like some proud, legally binding document.

It is that childhood friendship seen from both perspectives after so many years apart which will form the heart of this second volume, along with the nascent relationship between the two Tim bots which will prove far from obvious (they’ve had different experiences, after all) and that between Tim-21 and Bandit, the artificial dog he’s been forced to abandon on a hostile planet.

Can you imagine what that must feel like?

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The key to this title’s success is that Lemire and Nguyen have both imbued Tim-21 with more humanity than anyone else in this series which now seems set of a cycle of destruction. They only way you can tell Tim-21 and Tim-22 apart – and indeed Tim-22 from a human child – is that latter’s lack of speech contractions and perhaps an overly analytical interest in what’s prepossessing him. Tim-21’s ditched that in favour of something simple, more intuitive: a core response to his own feelings.

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For a detailed analysis of the catastrophic events leading to a universe if which our treasured robotic servants have become outlawed and hunted down in the hope extinction through no fault of their own, please see my extensive review of DESCENDER VOL 1: TIN STARS. The plot is ridiculously clever with a great big lie revealed right at the climax which makes a re-read almost obligatory, and I stick to my guns comparing Nguyen’s delicate, lambent watercolour washes here – loose enough to let lots of white-paper light shine through – to Jon J. Muth’s in the much-missed MOONSHADOW collection. Blugger even reminds me of Ira.

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Now you will meet not only The Hardwire robots, rebelling against the universal cull (designated terrorists, obviously) but also The Between whose queen has a personal past with one of our cast. They’re technologically augmented humans. Quite how they’ll fit into the big picture I’ve no idea, but The Hardwire won’t necessarily respond in kind to their cull because – remember – they are not human and we shouldn’t judge them by our own lack of standards. Although one of them’s quickly catching up, obviously…

Now, what about Tim-21’s dream about a robotic afterlife, like some heavenly data-dump up in the clouds…?

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Buy Descender vol 2: Machine Moon and read the Page 45 review here

The Fuse vol 3: Perihelion s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood…

“This is not so bad. I expected chaos.”
“Hold that thought, Marlene. After today’s done, then come talk to me about chaos.”
“I find the entire concept fascinating. Five million kilometres closer to the Sun may sound a lot, but our total distance is still 147 million kilometres. On a stellar scale the difference is negligible.”
“And yet, enough to drive people crazy.”
“But I wonder, how much of it is cultural? A self-perpetuating social construct. What if people go crazy on Perihelion day precisely because everyone expects them to?”
“That’s amazing, Marlene. I can’t believe nobody ever suggested that before. Maybe you should write a book, do the talk-show circuit.”
“Your mockery is unnecessary, Sergeant. I realise I am not the first to consider the theory, but it remains interesting.”
“Yeah, well, like the old Chinese curse says… May you live in interesting times.”

Ah, she’s quite the wag, our grey-haired, grizzled Sergeant Klementina ‘Klem’ Ristovych! When she’s not cracking cases, she’s keeping herself busy by busting her partner’s chops, the relatively new arrival Detective Ralph ‘Marlene’ Dietrich. I think it’s done out of affectionate respect as much as anything, but still, it’s good to see the time-honoured tradition of taking the piss out of the rookie is alive and well, even in the futuristic confines of a cop drama on the orbiting energy-generating platform known somewhat prosaically as The Fuse. Klem clearly has no idea that Marlene is keeping secrets from her…



It’s perhaps not surprising, mind you, missing what’s right under her nose. Firstly, because Marlene is being very, very careful. Secondly, Klem’s got the busiest beat of them all, 22,000 miles up in space with half a million people stuffed into a five-mile tube, and today just so happens to be the busiest day of the year, Perihelion…

You can postulate theories all you like as to why a bit of extra sunshine might send people round the bend, like mad dogs and Englishmen swilling lager and getting all leery in the oh-so-brief summer rays, but between a knees-up that makes the Notting Hill Carnival look like a sedate affair, a hair-snipping serial killer, a political rally threatened by a terrorist group claiming to have a bomb, a mob boss with a dodgy ticker trapped while a nutter holds an entire hospital hostage, an artificial farm food worker seeing visions of the Devil, an escaped prisoner and oh, a mysterious murder of an apparently devoted husband… well, you can see how Klem might not spot anything shady about her partner. Yet.


We, the readers, finally find a little more out about what he’s up to though… maybe. I’m not entirely convinced whether the big reveal at the end of this arc is exactly what it seems or merely misdirection, so that particular little mystery continues unabated. Oh, Antony, you are a tease! As ever, Justin Greenwood’s art is note-perfect for this unique blend of cop drama and speculative fiction. He does the best sneaky sideways glances of which there are more than a few in this arc!


Buy The Fuse vol 3: Perihelion s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Elias The Cursed h/c (£18-99, Humanoids) by Sylviane Corgiat & Corrado Mastantuono…

“Those pieces of The Game Of Celestial Beings make you a great Magus.”
“What do you know of this game?”
“During my travels I never stopped reading the fables and legends of these talismans coveted by fools. They say that this game comes from an era so ancient that it has been forgotten. They say that its power is so great that a lifetime is not sufficient to reunite the 32 pieces that are scattered throughout the world…”
“They say that the 32 pieces represent 32 stars in the sky and that each one imparts its special power to a talisman…”
“… And especially he who reunites the game in its entirety. They will then have access to a 33rd power. That is what you wish, is it not?”
“What more do you know, little man? And what is the power in question?”
“He who possesses the game in its entirety has the power to change his destiny, to travel back in time and start anew wherever he chooses…”


Which would be very handy for someone who has been cursed. Someone, say, who used to be a mighty and feared tyrannical ruler, having conquered most of the known world by the age of twenty before losing his entire army during a catastrophic 128-day siege and climatic final battle with the magician Melchior, who just for good measure then stole Elias’ youthful body for his own. Now, believed to be dead, Elias wanders the earth looking for a way out of his plight, and perhaps also reflecting on the foolishness of youth, desiring world domination and indeed coveting talismans. Although, perhaps he’s not entirely realised the latter just yet…

Another action-packed, exquisitely decorative slice of high fantasy from Humanoids. The French writer Sylviane Corgiat came to my attention with the brilliant THE SWORDS OF GLASS and here has come up with a yarn that’s even more intricately crafted and just downright epic. Well, it was originally published in 2004 through 2007 in three parts in France, though wasn’t translated into English until now as this complete collection. Italian artist Corrado Mastantuono is new to me I have to admit but it’s the typical beautiful ligne claire illustration you hope for in a Humanoids publication.


I actually wrote of THE SWORDS OF GLASS that it was ‘The best slab of Euro-fantasy I have read for some considerable time.’ I think this is even better actually in terms of story-telling. Corgiat puts Elias through the veritable wringer plus assorted other medieval torture/plot devices on his quest to obtain the 32 talismans, and of course obtain his reckoning with Melchior, in a tale told with as much humour as there is gore.


Buy Elias The Cursed h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Cinema Purgatorio #1 (£4-50, Avatar) by Alan Moore, Kieron Gillen, Garth Ennis, Max Brooks, Christos Gage & Kevin O’Neill, Ignacio Calero, Raulo Caceres, Michael DiPascale, Gabriel Andrade.

“Let’s get back to the station. A little child’s gone missing.”

Quick! Back into the truck!

“Ten to one the parents did it, eh?”


What’s so arresting is that the above comes in the form of one of those ornate white-on-black caption cards from silent, black and white comedy capers like the Keystone Cops which we all associate with hilarity. Within panels – or frames – here, the violence no longer seems quite so “cartoon”, their mass incompetence not half so funny or innocent.

Was it ever really so when one of their stars, Fatty Arbuckle, was framed with a smear his career never recovered from?

Oh look, there’s Charlie Chaplin distracting the paying public with a card trick while booting a bag of the robbed bank’s lolly into the back of the van! Now turn back to the movie’s title: silence is golden, they say.

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That’s the first self-contained story from the Moore and O’Neill, creators of the equally acquisitive and satirical THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN and O’Neill gives it all the energy you associate with the stunt-centric buffoonery.

It’s joined in this not overly horrific horror anthology by the first chapters of four serialised stories: a Godzilla monster-movie riff; something involving the American Civil War which is explained in an afterward; a piece of vampirical whimsy and – my other favourite – a sort of post-apocalyptic Pokemon written by THE WICKED + THE DIVINE’s Kieron Gillen in which the cutest daemon imaginable – a doting, Alsatian-sized dog with butterfly wings and long, lolling tongue who won’t bark but “Yip! Yip”s instead – is coveted by a Daemonatrix who’s gotta catch ‘em all.

“You know the rules. Fight or just hand her over.”

It’s not Fluffbumble’s owner who has to do battle, it’s Fluffbumble herself who quite obviously doesn’t have a bellicose bone in her body. Nevertheless she is forced to fight something that looks like a mechanised, weaponised Judge Death.

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Full marks to Ignacio Calero for a Fluffbumble that’s a gentle giant, loyal and stoical but far from effete – anything camper would have rendered this into crude, two-dimensional comedy. Instead the pep talk and aftermath are both genuinely affecting.


Buy Cinema Purgatorio #1 and read the Page 45 review here

Megg & Mogg In Amsterdam And Other Stories (£14-99, Fantagraphics) by Simon Hanselmann.

T is for Transgression!

Hurray for Transgression!

But also for Tales so Toxic your skin might start itching and skunk so soporific that you run the risk of suffocation. It billows in pungent green clouds from almost every one of these pages so that if you’re not properly ventilated your mind might grow light and your stomach may turn.

Megg is a witch, Mogg is her monged-up moggie and this will be so, so familiar to anyone who is – or ever has been – so drug-dependent that you’ll do almost anything or anyone to get more, after which your decision-making processes are even further impaired.

Whatever I have found in the way of interior art above, below or to your right is infinitely cleaner than almost every page. Clue: Megg and Mogg are in a relationship. A sexual relationships. Pray, do not go there – unlike Megg.

The sordid sequel to Hanselmann’s MEGAHEX, this is empathically not the FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS who, for all their derring-doobage, at least kept it amicable and none of them interfered with FAT FREDDY’S CAT.

This is far from amicable, for Mogg and Megg share a flat with Owl who wants a clean, quiet house, secure from burglars, so he can sleep soundly. He is going to get none of those.

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Neither Megg nor Mogg are disposed to give a fuck, nor is their neighbouring drug-dealer called Werewolf Jones who – over and over again – manages to wangle his way into their home along with his delinquent ten-year-old kids whom he’s brought up as personal slave-labour and public performers on webcam. Those sorts of performers, yes – as a rule of thumb, if you want to infer the worst from whatever I write about this, you would not be far wrong.

At home the kids are content to shit all over their lawn because it’s their turf and they are wolves. At Megg, Mogg and Owl’s they’re still left to run amok, one of them shattering Owl’s beak with an ashtray. Twice. So well drawn is this that if you don’t immediately think of and fear for your own teeth then I’d be very much surprised. Parental supervision?

“I blame the school system.”

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To be fair, Owl is an uptight, judgemental prick. On the other hand it must be hard to find your clean white towels strewn all over the bathroom, shit smeared all over the toilet, junk all over the floor, a naked, jaundice-skinned witch passed out next to a stinking bucket bong, a dildo on your kitchen table, crumbs in your best butter (crumbs in your best butter!) and a cat in your kitchen sink:

“Quit whining, Owl.
“Nothing matters. Everything is meaningless.
“Stop trying so hard.”

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A triumph of injustice, I present you with the unhealthiest comic ever committed to paper, a dire warning never to share a flat nor invite any guests over ever, and the most careless, callous and often mean-spirited miscreants ever to spoil your party / meal / gig / camping trip / holiday abroad / quiet, private time / underwear / appetite / fondest memories imprinted on photographs.

All of the above actually included.


Buy Megg & Mogg In Amsterdam And Other Stories and read the Page 45 review here

Adulthood Is A Myth (£10-99, Andrews McMeel Publishing) by Sarah Andersen.

Of course it is! I’m still playing videogames into the early hours of the morning, and do you know how old I am now? No…? Good!

Even parents are merely playing at being adults. Responsible…? Knowledgeable…? They haven’t got the first flippin’ clue. The whole rearing thing is done on a wing and a prayer, the prayer predominantly being “Why did I ever have children?”

Now along comes Sarah Andersen with a big book of comic strips designed primarily to make you feel so much better about your lives – your own insecurities and perceived inadequacies when compared the rest of the right-thinking world which doesn’t actually exist.

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This will tick almost every recognition box except those possessed by ridiculously high achievers who would be hard pressed to pass for human anyway.

Delivered in the Matt Groening school of cartooning, even the Groening failed to achieve such a high hit/miss hilarity ratio in his LIFE IS HELL series, as Anderson addresses the following with admirable confessional candour:

Nightmares for introverts, written communication versus verbal communication, oh so clammy hands; comfort dressing, heels, clothing sizes in general; over-think on dates, over-prepping for dates, and how to know that your loved one is here for the long haul; gorging, guilt and the making of friends (sort of – neuroses neutralising all hope of progress); good relationships / bad relationships, new relationships / old relationships; internet comment threads, internet search histories (yours!) and the barely controllable desire to defenestrate your laptop each and every time some twerp tags you in a Facebook photo.

Adulthood Is A Myth 3I feel Sarah’s frustration at slow walkers ahead of me, five-abreast families scoring 10,000 bonus points for being inconsiderate oblivo-bots! I demand the right to complain without someone soothing me with mitigating plus-points or stress-relieving advice; but I have to confess I had no idea about when to wash bras versus when most women truthfully wash them. Is this a thing? Admittedly I cannot recall any lad at school washing his groin-protecting cricket box out during an entire year of dashing sweatily between creases, but nor do I remember any of them still wearing that box out of a date.

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Throughout Anderson bravely hangs her mental underwear out on the metaphorical line in order to demystify our oh so common neuroses whilst praying you don’t laugh at her bloomers.

Basically this, then: you are not alone.

And you never listen to your own sage advice.

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Buy Adulthood Is A Myth and read the Page 45 review here

Blackbird (£12-99, Conundrum International) by Pierre Maurel…

“And now, closer to home: parliament today adopted a law that repeals the fixed price on books. It includes a clause that prohibits self-publishing. All published works are now required to pass through the hands of accredited certified publishers. The new law is intended to crack down on contentious content and improve distribution for all authors.”

Whatever would Dave Sim say?!!!

Where does suppression of public discourse really begin? What would be the thinnest leading edge of that particular wedge? You might believe that freedom of speech is something we in our country are entitled to without any strictures or consequences. But if the government were going to attempt to begin to crackdown on those with dissenting views, or indeed any views, what form would it take…? Here Pierre Maurel looks at a world where the diminishing of such liberties begins with the removal of the right to self-publish. The criminalising of the independent proliferation of ideas on paper if you will.


Unsurprisingly, there are those amongst us who aren’t going to just take such injustice without fighting back and this is their story. The makers of the Blackbird zine are a rag-tag bunch of libertarians, anarchists, political thinkers, pissheads and skate punks. They don’t have much, but the loss of their right to be heard, irrespective of what they’ve got to say, doesn’t sit well with them at all.


Clearly they’re not going to be able to act with impunity, though. No, covert guerrilla tactics and more than a few kickflips and emergency ollies are going to be required to escape the ever more encircling arms of the law, as their campaign escalates from initial amusing and seemingly harmless protests against politicians to rather more serious tactics. But can they really fight the encroaching evil of authoritarianism, or is it just a matter of time before the law wins? But if they do fall, who, if anyone, will step forward to take their place?


Very salient piece of social commentary wrapped in an incredibly engaging and believable story, much like Ant Sang’s THE DHARMA PUNKS. Just as Ant did, Maurel has also captured the essence of his characters perfectly. I have no doubt such a group would be composed of the bickering dilettantes he depicts, and he extrudes the various clashing personalities out into fully fleshed-out individuals with their own stories, plus the sacrifices that they are prepared to make for the cause. Some considerably more than others…


I can see various different creators in his black and white art. Early Chester Brown, Dylan Horrocks, Jessica Abel, even a bit of Jeffrey Brown and possibly even a bit of Jacques Tardi, actually. This will appeal to anyone who appreciates the power of protest and absolutely loves the idea of someone sticking it to the man. So me at least, then!


Buy Blackbird and read the Page 45 review here

Rebels vol 1: A Well-Regulated Militia s/c (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Brian Wood & Andrea Mutti, Matthew Woodson, Ariela Kristantina, Tristan Jones…

“Hold still, or I’ll shoot.”
“My father told you about crossing our fields, you spook the cows and the milk comes spoilt.”
“Come off it, Mercy Tucker. That’s just famers’ superstition.”
“So, what? We’re famers, ain’t we? We’d know, wouldn’t we? You two just gonna stand there like a pair of jackanapes?”
“Mercy, your Pa knows what’s at stake. He knows the militia is what’s keeping this farm out of the hands of the thieves down in Albany. Your Pa would let us pass freely. Your Pa wouldn’t point a musket in our faces.”
“Redcoats came up the big house three days ago, Ezekiel. Pa signed the grant papers over to the Sheriff. Made us tenants, didn’t they? I’ve been out in these fields since, ashamed to see my Pa, knowing he’d be ashamed to by seen by me.”
“Mercy… tell your Pa, we’ll be back with those papers.”

Young Seth Abbott has a lot to learn about the different ways war can be waged. He might be a member of the local militia sworn to achieve independence from the British and their hated occupying armies of Redcoats, but not all battles are fought with a gun.


I suspect this is going to be a fascinating series for anyone interested in history, and particularly this period, which I will fully admit is not one I know much about, partly because, given the British ultimately got booted out, it doesn’t get taught much in UK schools!

I do, however, clearly remember inadvertently instigating a full-on cowboy-style barroom brawl in Alabama one 4th of July, when asked by a smartarse local what we called Independence Day in the UK. My somewhat alcohol-aided throwaway riposte of it being known as the Good Riddance To Bad Rubbish Day provoked a wild swing from my outraged non-compadre which I fortunately dodged.

Unfortunately for him, it smashed the orneriest nutter in the bar squarely on the back of the head, whom, delightedly taking offense with the idiot in question, after eyeing the pair of us up and deciding my best “it wasn’t me, honest guvnor” face was clearly one to be trusted, went at the haymaker like an out-of-control combine harvester. Suffice to say, before you could utter “Four score and seven years ago…” there were Stetsons being knocked jauntily askew left, right and centre as a group of about thirty locals started going at it en masse, settling old scores. I just inched my way through to the edge of the melee somehow unscathed, picked up my Heineken which was perched on the bar and propped myself up to enjoy the scene. Good times.


Anyway… digression done with, Brian Wood has commented he intends this to be a NORTHLANDERS-style title. By which he means that each arc will be self-contained thus allowing him to tell various different colonists’ stories, not just the famous figures of the time. For let’s not forget that ultimately this is what all the non-indigenous inhabitants of North America were at that time really: not natives, but relatively recently arrived pioneers who, for the most part, actually didn’t wanted to secede from British rule until the British government caused such dissent and consternation with their taxation policies. Then their rather heavy-handed attempts to crush any dissent didn’t help.

This everyman concept – which I think worked extremely well in NORTHLANDERS in allowing him to explore the very diverse elements and traditions, plus the varied political and social structures of the Viking world, in addition to some major events of course – could translate very nicely to this milieu, even though it was of course considerably briefer and more geographically condensed. Because actually, that’s what I’m interested in: what was life like for the settlers during this incredible period of upheaval? Inevitably sides had to be chosen, stands taken, and many a heavy price paid. Just not tea taxes…


This first arc, then, deals mainly with young militia man Seth Abbott and his bride Mercy Tucker. Actually, it’s mainly about their dual lives, during the long, seven-year separation the war causes them. In truth, though, it’s as much choice for Seth as duty, something his wife, bringing up their son and protecting their homestead alone, does not appreciate one iota, even if she intends to remain faithful and true to her wedding vows. Then there are also some individual issues featuring very different characters: a wife fighting alongside the soldiers including her husband on the front lines, a Native American Indian who finds conflicting friendship and tribal loyalties impossible to resolve, and a freed black slave fighting on behalf of the Crown. I think Brian Wood certainly delivers and then some on his intentions to show the individual human stories of the war.

Lovely delicate art from Andrea Mutti on three of the six issues in this volume (#1, #4 & #5), he does like his line shading, very ably supported by Matthew Woodson, Ariela Kristiantina, Tristan Jones, who take an issue each. The changes in art style neatly accompany the changes in character or focus of the storyline.


Buy Rebels vol 1: A Well-Regulated Militia s/c and read the Page 45 review here

DMZ Book 1 (£18-99, Vertigo) by Brian Wood & Riccardo Burchielli.

Manhattan is no longer the thriving hub of culture and commerce it once was.

It is a wreck ravaged by all, caught in the crossfire between the U.S. Army and America’s own home-grown, anti-establishment militias which rose up while all the eyes and soldiers’ feet were abroad in Afghanistan and Iraq, and did a little insurging of their own.

A supposedly demilitarized zone, Manhattan is prone to be bombed with a moment’s notice and has become a no-go zone for everyone but the most intrepid or reckless reporters.

Matty Roth is neither of those. He’s an inexperienced rich kid whose dad called in a favour and bought him a ticket to shadow a veteran war journalist on an expedition into the heartland of the DMZ. They had a military escort but that lasted all of five seconds before an ambush left Roth scuttling for cover, alone and ill-equipped to survive this alien, inhospitable and virtually lawless environment.

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Roth tries to report what he sees, but it’s not long, of course, before he begins being used by the military and media alike, whose mendacity is not to be underestimated.

Gruelling but gripping. Warren Ellis raved about the final issue reprinted here, ‘New York Times’, as the most ground-breaking comic of year in which it was originally published. It wasn’t, but it was a clever collage, with Brian Wood himself (or rather, the protagonist) assembling snapshots of life and culture into a “year-one report” for Independent World News.

Other than that, Burchielli’s art reminded me a little of Mike McMahon’s on THE LAST AMERICAN. It was craggy that way, with a lot of chin. Also, it was the shell-shocked and pocked environment.

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Like Brian K. Vaughan in Y – THE LAST MAN, Wood soon begins to examine other practical ramifications of his chosen scenario, in this case the island’s isolation, the lack of sustainable firewood and the fate of the zoo whose custodians turn out to be a lot less cuddly than David Attenborough or dear old Johnny Morris.

The best is yet to come, however, when the series whose premise is the result of America’s illegal invasion of Iraq becomes the perfect vehicle to damn so much that occurred there including the deployment of private military corporations like Blackwater, the deadly, indiscriminate, gun-ho actions of its mercenaries, and oh so much more.


Buy DMZ Book 1 and read the Page 45 review here

We Stand On Guard h/c (£18-99, Image) by Brian K. Vaughan & Steve Skroce.

The writer of SAGA, PAPER GIRLS, EX MACHINA, Y – THE LAST MAN, THE PRIVATE EYE and THE ESCAPISTS needs no introduction, so I was going to write that you can consider this a re-introduction, then I looked back and realised that politics play a substantial role in almost all of those, while PRIDE OF BAGHDAD is overtly critical of the American military’s conduct and indeed very presence in Iraq.

Here, in a century’s time, America invades Canada in retaliation for what it perceives to be – or claims to perceive to be – its drone strike on The Whitehouse. We don’t even know if it was Canada that was responsible. It seems pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? But Canada does have a lot of lovely clean water much wanted over the border so that’s convenient, eh?

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Disproportionate response is nothing new when it comes to the US military – nor a deliberate mis-identification of any clear and present danger – so I think you can consider Ottawa obliterated in the first few pages of chapter one. During this almost instantaneous assault without any evidence of investigation Tommy and Amber’s parent’s limbs blown are off in front of them, their dad’s dying words being…

“Tommy… you listen to me… you… look after… your baby sister… whatever happens… you never… leave her side…”

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Twelve years later, on the very next page, Tommy has left Amber’s side.

She’s all alone in the Canadian snow-swept wilds, armed with a crossbow, hunting for her supper.

But she’s about to have company and not necessarily any of it good.

I was uncertain about Steve Skroce’s art to begin with. I certainly found no fault with his sense of scale: the American military’s four-legged All-Terrain Tanks towering above the tallest of the trees in the Northwest Territories are monumental, terrifying, their armour so evidently impregnable.

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But there’s something inescapably toy-doll about the figures, their arrangements on the page and how they sit in their environment.

What won me over was the second issue’s invasion of the cosy, well-appointed home of a couple of pensioners quietly sitting on their suburban settee. The clarity verging on the clinical elevates the incongruity of what you’re witnessing, and that’s the genius of the series itself.

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Somehow (somehow) it’s one thing for American soldiers to bust down so many domestic doors in Baghdad and brutally manhandle their occupants without any hope of being reasoned with, but setting this in Canada where the tree-lined avenues look so similar to our own and, of course, America’s… Well, it brings the horror all home, hopefully.

So what happened to Amber’s brother, Tommy? Well, we do know he was captured by the Americans and presumably taken to one of their camps. Probably to what is ominously being termed “the basement”.

What you’ll find there will be unflinchingly brutal, come with complete deniability, zero qualms and no hesitation whatsoever.


Buy We Stand On Guard h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Spider-Man: Brand New Day s/c (£29-99, Marvel) by Dan Slott, Bob Gale, Zeb Wells, Marc Guggenheim & Phil Jimenez, Steve McNiven, Greg Land, Phil Winslade, Mike Deodato, Salvador Larroca, Chris Bachalo, Barry Kitson, Marcos Martin, Mike McKone, Paulo Siqueira.

Omnibus reprint of what – in many ways – was that start of whichever SPIDER-MAN series you’re reading now.

Following Jo Quesada’s intervention at the end of Straczynski’s run, “Brand New Day” should have been a very hard sell. The clock hadn’t just been turned back, it had been thrown against the wall, smashed to pieces and put together again with some missing parts replaced. Some of the cogs were new, some were very old, and some had simply been given a different coloured varnish. But guess what? The clock still ticked at a fine, steady pace – it was just a different clock.

Peter had never married Mary Jane – in fact, they broke up, though why was a mystery they let linger for a while. Harry Osborne – the son of the original Green Goblin and his successor – was still alive and suddenly no one knew who Spider-Man was, not even those who saw him unmask during CIVIL WAR.

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“Oh no!” the men-children cried. “That means that the last twenty years of stories I’ve enjoyed never happened!”

“No,” I replied, “they never did happen. They never happened because this is fiction and they are stories! But you enjoyed reading those stories, so what are you complaining about?! Here are some more stories. If sales here are anything to go by, you’re enjoying those as well, aren’t you?”

Anyway, as I say, something happened to prevent Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane. You won’t find out what yet because they’re avoiding each other. In the meantime, Harry Osborn’s back from Europe with a sexy entourage and determined to slide his way into politics, Aunt May is doing voluntary work with someone a lot shadier than she knows, Peter’s given Jameson a coronary, and Jonah’s wife’s solution to his stress levels is to sell his shares in The Daily Bugle!

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Oh yes, all-new villains, even if one of their rides looks a lot like the Goblins’. Do you think all their cackling, monomaniacal ways will cross? I suspect so!

Dan Slott absolutely nailed the tone, the characters, the humour and the pace, whilst McNiven’s camera angles, even during conversations, were unusual and fun. Not only that but throughout the run which eventually culminated in Doc Ock’s tenure as SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN (after a few more books yet to be repacked into these new, giant-sized editions) Slott managed to corral its multiple contributors into creating a surprisingly consistent series.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Chris Bachalo came on board with all the blizzard scenes I’ve found as your interior art here, but it began round the breakfast table in the New Avengers’ hideout with Wolverine drinking beer, Dr. Strange walking air and Spider-Man stealing the toy from the cereal box. *sigh*

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It’s freezing outside.

Dr. Strange: If you’re sure my assistance isn’t required…
Spider-Man: Well, I’ve got twenty blocks to go in this blizzard. If you can make it stop snowing, I’d appreciate it.
Dr. Strange: Hmmm. I will not stop the snow, but perhaps I can tell you when it will cease.
Wolverine: Yeah, this is a good use of his time.
Spider-Man: I was kind of joking…
Dr. Strange: Verium, equinu, helerium….
Wolverine: You’re using our Sorcerer Supreme as a weatherman…
Spider-Man: I have a lot to do today…
Dr. Strange: The storm comes not from the north, east, west or south… But from the void, from darkness’ mouth. There is no time, the end is near, in blackness dies all we hold dear. From the snow a threat emerges, eyes of red, with murderous urges. A protector fights to seal the lock… Right here tonight… at four o’clock
[Dr. Strange collapses: THUNK!]
Wolverine: Anything else?


Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

From Now On (£10-99, Alternative Comics) by Malachi Ward

Lou (£10-99, Alternative Comics) by Melissa Mendes

Mega Robo Bros vol 1 (£9-99, David Fickling Books) by Neill Cameron

Pop Gun War: Gift (£10-99, Image) by Farel Dalrymple

Secretimes s/c (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Keith Jones

Invader Zim vol 1 (£14-99, Oni) by Jhonen Vasquez, Eric Trueheart & Aaron Alexovich

The Red Virgin And The Vision Of Utopia h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Mary M. Talbot & Bryan Talbot

Why Would You Do That? (£7-50, Hic & Hoc) by Andrea Tsurumi

Chew vol 11: The Last Suppers (£10-99, Image) by John Layman & Rob Guillory

Codename Baboushka vol 1: Conclave Of Death s/c (£10-99, Image) by Antony Johnston & Shari Chankhamma

Complete Peanuts: 1999 – 2000 (£16-99, Canongate) by Charles M. Schulz

Hellblazer vol 13: Haunted (£18-99, Vertigo) by Warren Ellis, Darko Macan & John Higgins, various, Francis Manapul

Judge Dredd Casefiles 27 (£19-99, Rebellion) by John Wagner & Henry Flint, Peter Doherty, Greg Staples, Ian Gibson

Stan And Nan h/c (£16-99, Jonathan Cape) by Sarah Lippett

Twilight Children s/c (£10-99, Vertigo) by Gilbert Hernandez & Darwyn Cooke

Batman And Robin vol 7: Robin Rises s/c (£14-99, DC) by Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, Andy Kubert, Juan Jose Ryp, Ian Bertram

Injustice Year Four vol 1 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Brian Buccellato & Bruno Redondo, Mike S. Miller, various

All New X-Men: Inevitable vol 1: Ghosts Of Cyclops s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Dennis Hopeless & Mark Bagley

Catwoman vol 5: Backward Masking s/c (£18-99, DC) by Will Pfeifer & Pete Woods, David Lopez

Grayson vol 3: Nemesis s/c (£12-99, DC) by Tim Seeley, Tom King & Mikel Janin, various

All New Wolverine vol 1: Four Sisters s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Tom Taylor & David Lopez, David Navarrot

Daredevil: Back In Black vol 1: Chinatown s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Charles Soule & Ron Garney, Goran Sudzuka

Spider-Gwen vol 1: Greater Power s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Jason Latour & Robbi Rodriguez, Chris Visions

Spider-Man / Deadpool vol 00: Don’t Call It A Team-Up s/c (£25-99, Marvel) by Fabian Nicieza, Joe Kelly, Daniel Way & various

Web Warriors Of The Spider-Verse vol 1: Electroverse s/c (£11-99, Marvel) by Mike Costa, Robbie Thompson & David Baldeon, Denis Medri

Monster Perfect Edition vol 8 (£12-99, Viz) by Naoki Urasawa

Tokyo Ghoul vol 6 (£8-99, Viz) by Sui Ishida

Paul Goes Fishing (£14-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Michel Rabagliati. Again?!?!


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ITEM! The debate rages on!

Article on print versus digital reading in schools, who prefers which and what makes all the difference in the world: choice!

Young, male, reluctant readers make good use of the iPad, probably because it turns reading into something that feels similar to a computer game, but the preference for print is encouraging and here’s some things you might not have thought of:

1) A book is more likely to be read, finished and enjoyed if the child has had an active role in selecting that prose book or graphic novel
2) iPads give very few clues as to form or content of any prose book or graphic novel
3) To successfully select, you first need a wide range to choose from.

Can’t wait to expand the space we give teen comics too, but in the meantime, yes, Young Readers, we have choice!

Librarian posters by Sarah McIntyre

Librarian posters by Sarah McIntyre

ITEM! Interview with MEGG & MOGG’s Simon Hanselmann (see review above) who you might remember getting married to comics (yes, comics) during the Ignatz Awards at SPX 2014 and snogging Fantagraphics’ Gary Groth.

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It is an exceptionally fine and fun interview about Simon’s creativity, cross-dressing and drug-addled mother. Simon makes a much prettier Megg than Megg does.

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– Stephen


Page 45 Comic & Graphic Novel Reviews May 2016 week one

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Reviewed: Inio Asano, John Allison, Brecht Evens, Sophie Campbell, Samuel C. Williams, Francesca Sanna, Mark Crilley, Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay, Neil Gaiman & Mike Zulli, Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette, Nick Spencer & more!

Panther h/c (£19-99, Drawn & Quarterly) by Brecht Evens…

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“ROOAARR…. Oh! Are you the little girl I heard crying?”
“Um… yes.”
“What’s troubling your heart, my child?”
“Lucy… my kitty… she’s dead.”
“Rooaarr, how dreadful! Was it some kind of automobile?”
“Sniff. No. The vet…”
“Those quacks! I am so sorry… Here, take my handkerchief.”
“Sniff. Who are you?”
“Ah! Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Octavianus Abracadolphus Pantherius, Crown Prince of Pantherland! But you can call me Panther!”
“How did you get into my dresser?”
“Rooaarr! We Panthers go wherever we please!”
“But Pantherland… That’s not a real country, is it?”
“Not a real country? Christine, how dare you?”
“How do you know my name? I didn’t tell you my name.”


Well… this wasn’t what I expected… and yet reflecting back to Brecht’s first work, the now-out-of-print NIGHT ANIMALS, it makes much sense. I was expecting something hilariously farcical akin to his two most recent works, THE WRONG PLACE and THE MAKING OF. This does have a lot of ridiculous humour in places, but there’s a very dark undercurrent here that left me feeling rather unsettled and uneasy upon its conclusion. Which, I should add, will be entirely what Brecht Evens intended.

Casting my mind back to NIGHT ANIMALS, where a young girl suddenly spontaneously matures physically, experiences her first period, and is whisked away from her soft toy strewn bed by the Devil to a wild orgy full of terrifying creatures in a forest, before she vanishes forever inside a strange birdman, there are clearly some parallels here. Askance ones at least.


For whilst the titular Panther may on the surface appear to be a captivating, charismatic, magical creature, who only appears to a young girl called Christine, living alone with just her father, her mother having left for reasons unknown and mourning the recent loss of her dead cat Lucy, by the time you finish this work, you’ll have a hard time not concluding that in fact the Panther is a sexual predator, grooming Christine. You might also find it difficult not to conclude that the Panther is her father… I have on the other hand heard it suggested that this is a story of initial sexual awakening, emergence from adolescence, and the Panther is indeed merely an internal representative figure. Much like NIGHT ANIMALS, then. But, as I say, it’s all very ambiguous, right to the very end…


What isn’t in doubt is that this is another Evens masterpiece, both in terms of storytelling and the art. You will find yourself squirming in your seat as Panther ingratiates himself further into Christine’s life, appearing as he only does in her bedroom, presenting himself as an understanding ear to bend and furry friend to play with. You can always tell, though, that he is being somewhat parsimonious with the truth. When not being downright evasive…


Art-wise, well, wow! The cover is an extremely accurate representation of the kaleidoscopic illustrations you will find within. Already one of the most unique and inventive artists out there, Brecht has taken it to new levels here. What also furthers the discomfort regarding the identity of the Panther is his amorphous features, indeed his entire head, and also sometimes even his body. They are constantly changing, transforming completely, to perfectly fit the moment in terms of expression and emotion, usually to evoke a reaction from Christine, and sometimes slipping quite perturbingly when he knows she can’t see. Occasionally it’s even three or four times within a single illustration in a kind of time lapse movement that’s quite the accomplished visual treat.


Once again Brecht also eschews the need for panel or page borders, indeed even pencils, just getting his watercolours straight down on the page. It adds a certain fairytale quality here in places. Overall, between the psychedelic art and the frenetic, fluid, false showman that is the Panther, there is a real Alice In Wonderland feel to this work. I closed the book feeling disturbed and delighted in equal measure. I have no idea what drove Brecht to write this particular work, but I can’t deny it’s a compellingly cruel story.


Buy Panther h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Bad Machinery vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside (£14-99, Oni) by John Allison…

Bad Mach 5 cover

“Lottie, put that yogurt away.”
“Street yogurt’s the best Shauna, well nang.”
“You’re not even using a spoon? You’re using the lid?”

Hahahaha, I read that page very shortly after a quick lunch on the hoof in Market Square, where upon discovering I hadn’t picked up a disposable spoon for my coconut milk yogurt, I was forced to fashion a makeshift one from the foil lid… It was, indeed, well nang! Not sure what it says about me that the BAD MACHINERY character I seem to have most in common with is Charlotte Grote, though!


So, the tween detectives of Griswalds Grammar School return with more musings on life, love and lessons, all the whilst attempting to crack another confounding case. This time around Sonny is besotted with a mysterious new girl who has just arrived at school, and possibly on land… Mildred, meanwhile, is falling for the charms of bad boy Lee Chaplin, though there’s the slight problem of a not-quite-yet-ex who is ready to fight Mildred to the death for her man! Good job Grandpa Joe is on hand to dispense some pearls of hard-won pensioner wisdom on the subject of romance and ill-advised beachcombing…

“Mildred, if the first thing a lad tells you is a lie, you’ve no reason to ever trust him.”
“But he’s so handsome and strong.”
“Lies are like a flower, the truth’s like a brick.”
“What about you Sonny?”
“I saw a girl swimming in the sea one day. I couldn’t stop dreaming about her. Think she… I think she… turned up at school and sat next to me.”
“You’ve flummoxed him. “Girls who come out of the sea are like… are like a… like…””
“Sonny, listen to me carefully. Did you take anything from the beach?”
“An… unshakeable sense of melancholy?”
“That wasn’t what I was thinking of.”


This is British farce at its finest. John sets up verbal punchline after punchline, page after page. I think possibly the episodic nature of BAD MACHINERY’s initial release in webcomic form, one page at a time, has finely honed John’s ability to be able to deliver pugilistic punctuation to world heavyweight championship standards. Not sure if that makes him the Rocky Balboa of British humour comics, but I do know that there are at least three more rounds of BAD MACHINERY material already out there on t’interweb for Oni to collect. Knockout!


What really makes BAD MACHINERY (and John’s university-based GIANT DAYS) such a gleeful pleasure to read, though, over and above the bonkers Scooby Doo-style sleuthery, is it will transport you back in time, to when all you really had to worry about was the sheer terror of working out just how to talk to the object of your erupting adolescent desires without dying of shame, avoiding flailing fisticuffs and torment at the hands of psychotic bullies who are probably now practising corporate law, and coming up with ever more imaginative excuses as to precisely why your homework seemed to have mysteriously not accompanied you to your seat of learning yet again…


John must have an eidetic memory of his formative years, though, because there’s so much I had forgotten about that comes flooding back every time I read BAD MACHINERY. Truly was life ever once so simple but simultaneously so fantastically complicated in such an emotionally jumbled up hormone infused manner? Indeed it was and what a pleasure it is to vicariously read all about it without actually having to go through it all again!


In terms of his art, I continue to marvel at how deceptively simple it looks. He’s refined it to an amazing degree now, it’s so smooth on the eye, yet packed with expression and detail, plus random hilarious visual background gags. (I truly want to believe there is an arcade game called King Beaver in which it is possible to enter Beavergeddon Mode!) It would be fair to say his style has attracted more than a few imitators in recent years, yet they are mere contenders compared to John. Whereas his art feels seamlessly put together, the wannabes are going to need to put in a lot more hours in the illustrative ring before they’re ready to take him on. Cue training montage. Or not.


Buy Bad Machinery vol 5: The Case Of The Fire Inside and read the Page 45 review here

Goodnight Punpun vol 1 (£16-99, Viz) by Inio Asano.

“I don’t get it!
“I don’t understand!!”

He really doesn’t. He doesn’t understand any of it: God, girls, crushes, friendship, promises, life, death by environmental disaster, dreams… Why his father decided to smack his mother into the middle of next week and then blame a burglar… That was particularly flimsy.

He doesn’t understand and it makes him so anxious that he frets and sweats and his little legs go jiggling about, nineteen to the dozen. Also, it renders him mute. He doesn’t say a word directly throughout the entire graphic novel. His friends and relatives tend to interpret how tongue-tied Punpun is coping with the world by asking him questions for him to respond to with vigorous nodding, timorous, alarmed eyes, a hastily beaten retreat or full-on floods of tears.

On the other hand, the world as presented to him is all kinds of crackers.

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His melodramatic teacher’s down-with-the kids “Psych!” winks are wince-worthy and his headmaster and principal, also rendered in terrifying detail, appear to be engaged in a Vitally Important if childlike game of hide and seek. In addition, his uncle taught him an infantile rhyme about God in order to bolster the boy’s confidence, but now God appears to Punpun as a sort of celebrity guru, a hipster with a beard and afro – a gormless, grinning, two-dimensional cardboard cut-out that’s sod-all use to anyone. In any case, his uncle doesn’t even believe in God.

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“Dream big, everyone!” commands his teacher. “Because dreams are free!”

He then adds, “But don’t forget to be realistic about your abilities and financial needs. Otherwise you’re in for some serious disappointments in life!”

There’s no shortage of disappointment here, but from this mixed message Punpun draws enough encouragement to write in his homework about studying space, becoming a professor and discovering a planet on which everyone can live once this one’s resources have been drained dry. His inspiration comes from a telescope his Dad won while gambling – a bribe to distract Punpun from the family breakdown in front of him – while his motivation is to impress school newcomer Aiko whose first words to Punpun are “In a few years we’ll run out of oil, the environment will be destroyed and Earth will be uninhabitable” right after “Why are you following me? I’ll call the cops!”

So there’s a right one to develop the most almighty crush on.

The essay would have impressed Aiko, except that at the last minute Punpun must have remembered his teacher’s more cautionary note and baulked, replacing ambition with the mediocrity of “My dream is to work in an average office and have an average family”. Then he ran away.

Did I mention that Punpun is drawn as a sort of cartoon bird-ghost with little stick legs..?

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Strangely enough you’ll get used to it quite quickly, but it emphasises Punpun’s timidity, fragility, distance and alienation from the world which baffles him, and the surreality of it all. His entire family’s drawn like that. Perhaps it’s because they’re all living in a shared cloud-cuckoo-land – including his uncle whose eyes behind his glasses on occasion widen from black dots to the photorealistic when shit, as they say, gets real. However much he strives to keep it at bay. (“Whatever! I’m taking a nap! I’m napping!”)

Different things seem real or credible to a kid than to an adult. At one point Aiko declares:

“If you break this promise…
“If you betray me again…
“Next time I’ll kill you.”

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And he believes her. It doesn’t dilute his adoration or his desperation to please her, but he fully believes she will kill him. Worse still, he cannot bear to disappoint her and that’s largely what’s running through his mind even when the kids are off to an abandoned miso-making factory in search of corpses and cash as alluded to by a murderer confessing his fratricidal, matricidal and patricidal sins on some doctored porn video-cassette they found in the street.

Sorry…? Which bit about “all kinds of crackers” did you not understand?

From the creator of A GIRL ON THE SHORE, NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH, SOLANIN, and WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD comes a new series I cannot compare to any of the above, each of Asano’s projects being a marked departure from the last.

In many ways it put me more in mind of SUNNY for, beyond the messed up family, the “Yup yup!” lawyer and Punpun’s internalised infatuation and stress, it’s another astute portrait of how twelve-year-olds operate: how they behave towards each other in a group and behind each other’s backs, their body language on meeting in the street, and even how they sit or kneel on public transport, a sandal dangling loosely from one boy’s foot.

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I loved the way some marched from time to time just to heighten the adventure of a journey as you do (or did), and the boys’ expressions when caught with porn by a gang of girls is absolutely priceless!

Shimi, Seki, Komatsu and Harumi are as individualistic as you like. Seki’s family fortunes are connected to those of the miso factory, Shimi’s snot streams as freely as any of the orphans’ in SUNNY, Asano correctly observing that within any group of similarly aged children some will still look older than others. One of the lads – not named as far as I could spot – is drawn, hilariously, with exactly the same expression in every single panel no matter what the context, snake-like eyebrows frowning away, his permanently shocked gap-toothed mouth agape.

As you may have inferred by now like A GIRL ON THE SHORE there is a certain degree of sexual exploration in evidence – albeit entirely solo, but then it’s only the first volume – and like NIJIGAHARA HOLOGRAPH there is a sequence of such protracted terror that I’m still not sure how Asano recovered from it except by deploying some Terry Gilliam collages as absurd as hipster God’s disembodied solo manifestations. It’s a trigger for an extended sequence of flashbacks to things Punpun never understood, particularly his parents’ marital breakdown, culminating in gormless God “looking unusually serious” declaring:

“Humans, as long as they live, have an emptiness inside them that can never be filled. If, no matter how much people need each other and hurt each other, there’s still no such thing as perfect understanding, then what on earth can you believe in? Just kidding – lighten up!”

I have no idea where this is going – to be fair, I’ve no idea where some of this went – but it kept me wide-eyed in wonder at all the traumas, bottom-of-the-same-steps accidents, and complete confusion.

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I think as much as anything this is indeed about isolation, for Punpun experiences everything at a remove by dint of his appearance, his reticence and his silence. Every dozen or so pages there’s a single small panel set apart at the far end of a blank page depicting two-dimensional Punpun small and alone in a detailed suburban city scene.

Isolation and family as a disappointment, perhaps – one’s stable refuge proving to be otherwise. There’s a heartbreaking scene against a sunset later on followed by a legal manoeuvre that’s cold. But don’t think that cassette-tape confession is irrelevant, either.

“The suspect further testified, “We argued about work and I lost control and I killed them”.”


Buy Goodnight Punpun vol 1 and read the Page 45 review here

Wet Moon vol 1: Feeble Wanderings (New Edition) (£14-99, Oni) by Sophie Campbell.

Cleo Lovedrop! Wet Moon vol 1 coverPossibly the best-named protagonist ever!

“If you can’t judge a comic by its cover, then it’s not the right cover,” I began ten years ago. “This is the right cover.”

It was a different cover!

“Framed in black, a young, tubby gothstress with a fag in her mouth, looks up uncertainly over her black-rimmed glasses… The cover says GHOST WORLD with piercings and pvc, and that’s pretty much what the contents deliver.”

Do you know what? They still do to a certain extent. That WET MOON developed into something far more chilling in its six volumes (so far) obviously colours a re-read but I saw some of that coming too. I simply failed to spot its simmering source. As, I’m afraid, do the cast.

I like the new cover. It speaks of a more profound melancholy, a deeper malaise than the comparatively fashionable original. This is someone alone with the thoughts while nobody’s watching, rather than someone perhaps being photographed.

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The forms inside will become a great deal softer, kinder, plumper, doe-eyed, love-struck and a lot less abrasive and tired over the six books, but that note aside, I’ll leave the original review pretty much as it stood…

Term’s about to kick off for a cast of young college girls, all unsure of themselves and their relationships, most of them awkward.

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Audrey – black, pretty and gay – is the exception, but Trilby – pale, freckled, Tank-Girl hair falling over a nose-ring and braces – provides a weighty counterbalance to Audrey by being hideously ugly, both inside and out. It’s not that she’s intent on turning her face into a human curtain rail – so many others are too – it’s that she’s relentlessly and remorselessly selfish, callous, moody, bitchy, and disloyal, dismissing anyone’s misgivings with “Who cares?” and “Whatever” while caring very much that no one walks in her watching Star Trek: Next Generation. She’s so two-faced she can be briefing against a friend five seconds before flashing a smile in their very direction.

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Fortunately the focus of this first book (and it does look as if it will be quite the saga) is Trilby’s friend Cleo Lovedrop, the girl on the front who is far more honest and open and therefore vulnerable and seems fascinatingly complex to me. Ross gives her pages and pages of silent panels, and you’re never quite sure what’s going on in her head, even though diary pages full of insecurity verging on paranoia are provided, as she stares at the moon, vulnerable and troubled, her hand over her belly. What’s going on when she turns tail in terror each time she bumps into a particular, tall fellow student called Vincent? (Have they had a relationship? a bad meeting? or is she just being weird?)

While working on Antony Johnston’s SPOOKED, Campbell proved she was one of those rare artists who, refreshingly, refrain from making everyone and everything LCD-perfect i.e. bland. It’s obvious she relishes more individualistic body forms. Here, however, she has managed to make some seductive art of it. The lines are far cleaner, the forms bolder and the grey tones reproduce the balmy atmosphere of the bayou. There’s some real subtlety in the expressions, and I don’t know if it was intentional, but I loved the way that it wasn’t until later on I realised that Cleo was so remarkably short.

I mentioned the bayou, and there’s an awful lot of water here, most of it decidedly ominous. As yet I haven’t decided whether the ‘Wet Moon’ in question is the reflection of the lunar sphere on the lapping lakes, or has more to do with the menstrual cycle, mentioned throughout, perhaps tying in with those belly rubs and Vincent.

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What I do suspect is that this will end up containing an element of horror, because there’s a brooding Charles Burns something-or-other going on with slack-jawed, drooling residents.

[For the record, that wasn’t where the horror ended up coming from! You could try to cheat by clicking ahead to my reviews of the other volumes but even there you’ll find me tantalisingly evasive.]


Buy Wet Moon vol 1: Feeble Wanderings (New Edition) and read the Page 45 review here

At War With Yourself (£7-99, Singing Dragon) by Samuel C. Williams…

“Are thereAt War cover any other things like that? Things you may have ignored that you now know were part of your PTSD?”

“Well there definitely things I identified as triggers later on. (Sit!) But I didn’t understand what was happening at the time.”

That was Matt, a former soldier, answering a question from the creator Samuel C. Williams whilst they take a walk in the park together. I should probably add the command to assume a recumbent position wasn’t aimed at Samuel, but Matt’s dog!

Okay, that’s my one jokey aside regarding PTSD, which clearly isn’t a laughing matter for sufferers. This work, the latest in the series of excellent medicinal prescriptions from Singing Dragon publishers, aims to prime people regarding PTSD’s causes and symptoms.

Samuel, as he strolls with Matt, talks us through what the medical profession currently know regarding PTSD. As a member of the military, Matt is clearly amongst the most well known demographic of PTSD sufferers, along with people working in emergency response, but the general public is gradually beginning to realise the causes of PTSD, from both one-off events and also cumulative trauma, and therefore those who can suffer from it, are considerably more widespread and varied than initially appreciated.

As they perambulate along peacefully Matt also gradually takes Samuel though his own diagnosis to the treatment he received and at the same time recounts his own harrowing trauma, plus some unintentionally humorous experiences that occurred at unexpected and inconvenient moments. As someone trained in counter surveillance, Matt would occasionally become convinced a car was following him and his wife whilst out driving, resulting in some awkward instances when he suddenly took a few random turns to try and shake them off! There are only so many times you can pull the old “I’ve just taken a wrong turn, darling…” excuse whilst trying to covertly evade pursuit!


Matt makes the very salient point that his experiences are always going to be with him, so it was necessary to learn how to live with them, and how to manage his PTSD. It’s nice to see there’s been a happy outcome for him and his family, and he rightly pays tribute to his wife for her part in that. Though as we clearly know, that’s sadly not the case for everyone because frequently people are too scared or self-conscious to seek help. Often with ultimately tragic consequences.

I have commented before with Singing Dragon publications that this is exactly the sort of material that should be sat in GPs’ waiting rooms for potential patients to read. It’s far more inviting, and dare I say it, informative, for someone who is already experiencing extreme trepidation about talking to a medical professional, than some glossy prose pamphlet filled with jargon. I think the relatively simple illustration style, just as with Alex Demetris’ DAD’S NOT ALL THERE ANY MORE, will work to great advantage in appealing to the non-comic public. These works looks intriguing and most importantly feel like something that is extremely accessible to everyone. They would definitely be picked up and absorbed.


Buy At War With Yourself and read the Page 45 review here

The Journey h/c (£12-99, Flying Eye Books) by Francesca Sanna.

“The further we go…
“The more we leave behind.”

Much has been made recently about teaching empathy in the classroom – promoting kindness and compassion through understanding. Quite right too, and to further that goal, this has just shot to the top of my list.

A carefully weighted cross between Shaun Tan’s THE ARRIVAL and Tove Jansson’s THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD, the images do so much of the heavy lifting that you can certainly consider it comics.

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It begins on the pristine sands of an enormous, open beach, mother in her modest swimsuit reading away, son exploring the shore and a tiny, tentative fish nearby, father and daughter building sandcastles so ornate that they are indistinguishable from the exotic city close to the sea. Then on the very next page war breaks out, the ocean becoming an enormous black leviathan of chaos and cruelty sweeping lives and all those castles so carefully constructed aside.

“And one day the war took my father.” It is a very stark page.
“Since that day everything has become darker and my mother has become more and more worried.”

The mother envelopes her children, one of whom is weeping, protecting them from the multiple, encroaching, black hands of danger and despair. Drawing a book from their extensive bookcase, the mother she shows her children pictures of “strange cities, strange forests and strange animals”, reassuring them that is a safe place, that they will go there and not be frightened anymore.

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“We don’t want to leave but our mother tells us it will be a great adventure. We put everything we have in suitcases and say goodbye to everyone we know.”

Everything. Everyone. Devastating enough but there is much worse to come.

At first they journey under their own steam in the family car, suitcases strapped on top. They still have a certain degree of control over their lives. Almost immediately, however, they find themselves in the back of a man’s van, squeezed between urns of olive oil…

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…Then amongst the produce of a fruit seller, with no room for the possessions they have had to jettison along the way. Then, with nothing left, they arrive at the border, its enormous wall, and an angry guard who demands they turn back.

Where? They have nowhere to go.

And it’s here that we come to the pages which most put me in mind of Tove Jansson’s THE MOOMINS AND THE GREAT FLOOD in which Moominmamma is the ultimate mother, reassuring Moomintroll in their journey through the dark forest even when worried herself. The mother has already done plenty of this, of course, proclaiming that their migration will be “a great adventure” and protecting them from the shadowy hands of her own dark fears. It is here, however, at their most vulnerable that the mother surpasses herself and the art comes into its own, entirely at odds with the narrator’s knowledge.

“In the darkness the noises of the forest scare me.”

Once again the mother embraces her children, nestling them in her thick, black hair amongst the forest’s foliage.

“But mother is with us and she is never scared. We close our eyes and finally fall asleep.”


“Never scared…”? She is petrified.  While they’re awake she meets her children’ wide-eyed gazes; once they’re asleep she cries her eyes out. And there is a long, long way to go yet.

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That this is told in the present tense keeps the future uncertain – as it is for this family every step of the way – right up to and beyond the conclusion. This is vital to keep readers walking every exhausting mile in their shoes, and to avoid the falsehood that endings are easily attained. This doesn’t have a “happily ever after”, but it does have the aspiration for one.

It is perfectly pitched.

Equally I wondered for a while whether this book with all its warm colours wasn’t too beautiful, but then I slapped myself for being so silly. Terrifying children out of their tiny minds is no use to anyone, and the beauty and fantasy of this book acts as the mother within, turning it into an adventure which will keep their shiny eyes utterly engrossed while they learn how the other half lives.

Which is obviously where Shaun Tan comes in, and so very often.

Also recommended when teaching empathy to young ones: LITTLE ROBOT by Ben Hatke, the creator of ZITA SPACEGIRL. Friendship, basically.


Buy The Journey and read the Page 45 review here

Brody’s Ghost: Collected Edition (£18-99, Dark Horse) by Mark Crilley.

Big fat, omnibus edition of the little pocketbooks of joy from the creator of all-ages AKIKO and the seasonal MIKI FALLS. This collects all six slimmer black and white volumes and some full-colour short stories which I imagine originally appeared in DARK HORSE PRESENTS, online or otherwise.

It also collects the various annotations which were substantial and will be of enormous use to nascent creators, being considerable and considered process pieces involving the development of certain looks, concepts, characters and confrontations – particularly the confrontations! Vitally Crilley supplies the alternative art which was later ditched in favour of what was finally printed so you can compare and contrast. When you get to it, the observation that rounded corners turned what looked inescapably like a dull function room into a dramatically extended tunnel is spot-on.

There’s a shift in art style since MIKI FALLS (and obviously AKIKO!) for he’s gone all Chynna Clugston on us. The hair is feathery and brightly grey-toned art is crisp as crisp can be. Space, there is aplenty.

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Crilley’s always had an epic sense of space and texture, and the dilapidated city – whose sky is snaked with girdered monorails and concrete overpasses that are mossed-over with shops and hoardings – is no exception. There’ll be plenty more where that came from. The equally decrepit Japanese temple is a wonder as well but, apart from that, Crilley keeps the pages free from clutter for maximum action and turning.

Brody is broke. A part-time busker, he’s taken being a slob to a professional extreme. And maybe the hunger’s got to him because after a game of blink with a pretty young lady in the ramen noodle van opposite him, the girl makes her move… right through its roof!

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I cannot tell you how well weighted that extended, silent sequence is: immaculate choreography, immaculate timing. It has to be: it’s the entire hook for the following five hundred and fifty + pages. That, and his dumbstruck disbelief and her dumbfounded disappointment that – having waited for over five years – Brody is what she’s been lumbered with.

So it’s match postponed until Brody can pick his jaw off the floor. It may take some time because so far he’s run a mile, and even tried to lock Talia out of a staff room.

“I go through stuff, Brody. I thought we’d established that.”


In some ways the dry disdain put me in mind of Terry Moore, some of whose characters secrete sass through their skin. Add in Talia’s lapsed relationship with the land of the living and RACHEL RISING is a very fine fit.

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“Let’s get this over with. I’m Talia. I’ve been dead for about five years now.
“Very depressing story. Don’t make me go into it.
“All you need to know is this.
“I’m locked out of heaven.
“They say I can’t move on to the afterlife until I’ve done, like, a super good deed.”

The mission she has chosen to accept for herself is to identify, track town and stop the Penny Murders serial killer, but for one thing physically disabling someone isn’t so easy when your hands are intangible. That’s where Brody comes in if he can stop freaking out. Not only can do the physical stuff, but he’s evidently something of a psychic given what he’s witnessing right now. And that’s what Talia needs:

“Someone who’s capable of seeing ghosts… hearing ghosts… and talking to ghosts.”
“Obviously we’re still working on the “talking” part.”

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With five hundred and fifty pages still to go, what have I failed to fill you in on?

Well, when the truth about the Penny Murders Serial Killer is finally revealed hundreds of pages later – the initial catalyst followed by her or his subsequent (consequent?) motivations – it makes a chilling sort of sick sense.

Talia may look like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth but you try being disembodied for five years and being unable to affect or effect anything. This is her one chance and what she’ll be prepared to put Brody through you will not believe. I can promise you this: she doesn’t bluff.

Also, Brody’s mourning a death of his own – that of his two-year-relationship with Nicole. It’s been over for six months but Brody, like Talia, cannot move on and with Nicole dating again I’m afraid Brody’s in very great danger of making matters worse.

His psychic skills will need honing, hence the haunted Japanese temple, as will his aptitude for combat because he’s just has his ass kicked by a gang’s pet twelve-year-old.

Oh, and his morals will almost certainly need diluting because Talia is lying to his face about many things. Here’s one for a start:

Talia emphatically did not die of leukaemia.


Buy Brody’s Ghost: Collected Edition and read the Page 45 review here

The Last Dragon (£9-99, Dark Horse) by Jane Yolen & Rebecca Guay.

At Page 45 we have dragons for all from the sublime (IN SEARCH OF LOST DRAGONS) to the ridiculous (ST. COLIN AND THE DRAGON) with the hunted and the harried in between. If you despise cockfighting and the setting of mastiffs upon one another, the recently reprinted FOUR EYES will get you proper riled. Poor dragons! It rarely goes well for them, does it?

This is a much more traditional setting for our scaly serpents / ancient wyrms and here they are more of a threat long thought dead, hunted through the islands to extinction.

But there were once many dragons and so many eggs, buried in the ground between the roots of ancient trees; trees which will one day, inevitably, give up the ghost and their secrets. And a dragon’s egg – like a dragon itself – can be patient, waiting for fortune to free it, waiting for the moment to strike.

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Jane Yolen tells the tale of one such resurrection, its divisive impact on an agricultural village and a family of five whose father and one of three daughters are herbalists. Like all fine fantasies there is an emphasis on knowledge, history and tradition; a quest taking a young band of the villagers way out their comfort zone; an element of deceit; an exploration of what makes a hero; the making of a woman or even a man, and a big bag of faith, ingenuity and improvisation.

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That it’s filed by Dark Horse itself under Young Adult explains a lot of its narrative stylings, and I can see this being prized by that specific audience enormously.

Also Rebecca Guay – famous for her contributions to Magic The Gathering – renders some startling double-page spreads of our dragon in action and, even more impressively, one as it quietly bides its time early on and so seen only reflected in a shower-dimpled river or lake. That I don’t “do” opaque is merely a personal preference. As a hardcover this went down a storm.

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Heart-warming autobiographical introduction / tribute by Neil Gaiman.


Buy The Last Dragon and read the Page 45 review here

The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch h/c (£10-50, Dark Horse) by Neil Gaiman & Michael Zulli.

Good lord, Sir Neil has a beard here!

And it is most definitely Neil, just as it’s Jonathan Ross and his wife Jane sitting down with him over sushi to recall the events leading up to the strange disappearance of Miss Finch – which was not her real name. No one would believe them if recounted, but recount them Neil does.

It begins when Neil holes himself up in a London hotel to finish off a script that’s been eluding him. No one should have known he was there, but Jonathan Ross has his ways and means and off they all go out to the theatre with Miss Finch, if only to dilute the horror that is Miss Finch – which was not her real name.

That Miss Finch is a horror as becomes immediately apparent when she arrives at Jonathan’s door to his elaborate home. An austere and pedantic bio-geologist, Miss Finch is an abrupt, humourless, supercilious and sanctimonious cow.

Facts In The Case 1

What, then, will they as a party make of the pseudo-phantasmagorical freak-show down in the warren of cellars that stretches under the train tracks of London’s rainy night? Is it really a fake? And what becomes of the stone-cold-hearted Miss Finch? It’s quite the transformation.

Neil keeps the tension racked, whilst Zulli (PUMA BLUES COMPLETE SAGA, SANDMAN: THE WAKE etc.) provides rich watercolour art which to begin with is overly busy, but burst out halfway though with cleaner ink lines before the lushest of light in the final tropical jungle scenes.

Oh, and Ross is depicted as a slim Oscar Wilde, which I imagine went down well with the fop!

Facts In The Case 2


Buy The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 h/c (£16-99, DC) by Grant Morrison & Yanick Paquette…

“Slave queen of a nation of slaves. Your children will live and they will die by the fist of man.”
“That’s better. Tell me. Tell them. It’s all play, remember?”
“Tell them all what you are. Say it. Tell us all what Hercules has made you.”

“Hercules… Hercules has made me patient!
“Hercules has taught me life is a privilege.
“And no more.

So much for Hercules… Or not, perhaps…

Grant Morrison returns to DC with an evocative, indeed provocative, reworking of the origins of Wonder Woman. Much like J. Michael Straczynski’s SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE trilogy and Geoff Johns’ BATMAN: EARTH ONE (two books so far, presumably a third at some point), this won’t in some ways feel like a radical departure from the mainstream DCU version (whatever that actually means as we careen towards yet another reboot, sorry, REBIRTH) unlike TEEN TITANS: EARTH VOL 1 which was quite the reshaping.

On the other hand, this is quite unlike any other WONDER WOMAN you’ll have ever read.


No, this is more Morrison paying to tribute to the true feminist roots, as he perceives it, of the character, and also her original creator, William Moulton Marston, making maximum use of the additional creative freedom that the non-continuity EARTH ONE series provides. Whilst also having some fun and games deconstructing and retooling other familiar supporting characters like Steve Trevor, here portrayed as African American, and Beth ‘Etta’ Candy who is restored to all her buxom Golden Age ultra-confident sorority girl glory.


Considering that this is undoubtedly an all-action story, it is wonderful to see so much emphasis put on the Woman rather than the Wonder. Also, despite the presence of Hercules, Morrison has very deliberately stepped away from the overarching Greek mythology influences that defined Brian Azzarello’s excellent New 52 run which started with WONDER WOMAN VOL 1: BLOOD S/C.

You probably need to know a bit about Martson to understand Morrison’s approach here. He was a psychologist (and lawyer) who lived with two women, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and their lover Olive Byrne. He wrote a lot about dominant-submissive relationships and posited the theory that “there is a masculine notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing feminine notion based on “Love Allure” that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority.”


It’s probably thus no surprise to find that Martson believed that women should run the world, and was a great champion of the early feminists. It’s pretty obvious therefore to also make the connection with a pair of bracelets that can repel any attack and a golden lasso that compels people to tell the truth. After the sword-wielding New 52 version, I liked this return to the more traditional version of the Warrior Princess.

Grant also can’t resist throwing in a bit of kink bondage for good measure, but it’s done in a way that made me laugh uproariously rather than feeling it was salacious, which it isn’t remotely, but again, it’s clearly another nod to Martson. Suffice to say Steve Trevor’s eyebrows disappear somewhere off the top of his head, and when Beth is explaining the, shall we say, cultural misunderstanding, to Diana whilst they’re propping up the bar afterwards, it provides a superb double punchline that had me wiping a tear of mirth away.

So there was much I really enjoyed about this retelling. The plot is extremely well thought through including a rather naughty bit of parental misdirection which well and truly comes home to roost. This version of Steve Trevor’s motivations for betraying his country to protect Diana and Paradise Island, being based not just on infatuation but also very understandable personal ideals based on  experienced prejudices, is I think the most depth I’ve seen given the character.


And Beth, my oh my, what a woman. Of all the various incarnations Diana’s bestie has had over the years, I think this brassy, bolshie blonde really does take the biscuit. Well, she probably takes the whole packet given half the chance judging by her girdle size, but she’s no shrinking violet that’s for sure. She’s certainly not going to let any stroppy, statuesque stunner whose been sent to bring Diana back for trial get the best of her!

“These are women of man’s world? Deformed, shrunken, bloated… domesticated cattle.”
“Amazonia has class bitches, too? That’s a bummer. Kinda spoiled my fantasy.”

Yanick Paquette is the perfect artistic foil for Morrison here too. His Amazons are joyous creations, and his exotically detailed Paradise Island truly does look like heaven on earth. There are some lovely page composition devices, including the recurring theme of golden rope as a panel separator, which greatly minded me of J.H. Williams III work on the pages of PROMETHEA. I’ll have to confess historically I’ve not been the biggest Wonder Woman fan (though certainly I’ll be having a look at the Greg Rucka / Liam Sharp WONDER WOMAN REBIRTH reboot), but more tales like this could definitely win me over.


Buy Wonder Woman: Earth One vol 1 h/c and read the Page 45 review here

Captain America: Sam Wilson: Not My Captain America vol 1 s/c (£13-50, Marvel) by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna, Paul Renaud, Joe Bennett.

Wall Street.

“The first thing I’d like to tell you is this: you are not bad people.
“I read the same headlines you do. The greed of the one percent. Corporate bailouts, corporate handouts, corporate welfare, Malfeasance. Corruption.
“We’re sure not in the eighties anymore, are we?”

This isn’t the first collection with former Falcon Sam Wilson as Captain America – that was Rick Remender and Stuart Immonen’s ALL-NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA VO 1: HYDRA ASCENDANT whose review will stand you in good stead for context – but it is a fresh new satirical start.

Gone is the straight white male Steve Rogers who believes that when the chips are down his country will do what’s right; here instead is African American Sam Wilson who just hopes it will because he’s seen it do the opposite so very often.

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As America faces a Presidential Election in which Barrack Obama could very easily be replaced by Donald Trump – a disingenuous, racist, corporation-friendly, multi-millionaire fuckwit who wants to wall off Mexico – THIEF OF THIEVES’ and THE FIX’s Nick Spencer throws immigration and that specific border crossing unflinchingly in your face along with post-SNOWDEN whistle-blowing and post-SUPERCRASH continued corporate greed, its complicit media collaborators and political enablers.

If this were British I would have expected Tory darling Sir Philip Green to have made a personal appearance, so direct is this.

We’re back in the boardroom again, with captive audience and socialist Sam Wilson being given a grilling.

“You think you’re helping – with your coddling, your welfare state, your demands for equality.
“Whatever happened to exceptionalism? Whatever happened to rewarding hard work? Instead we punish success!
“Today’s businesses face unfair and oppressive regulation at the hands of an overreaching government. I mean, where in the Constitution is anyone promised clean air, anyhow? Sounds to me like free market demand for filtration systems and gas masks.
“Someone has to stand for the job creators and innovators that we’ve bound up in red tape. Someone has to make America marvellous again…
“And I say I’m just the super villain in a snake suit to do it.”

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The live media coverage endorsing the Viper and his Serpent Solutions as pro-profit pioneers even as they’re attempting to murder Sam Wilson outside the Stock Exchange as is as outlandish as Grand Theft Auto’s Weasel News. Except of course that Weasel News barely constituted satire: it was Fox news with barely a tweak and by any other name!

Somehow each of the artists manages to keep a straight superheroic face, even on the golf course, but to give you an additional indication of where to place this in the scale of po-faced punch-em’-ups and comedies like HAWKEYE, Sam spends most of his time here on a plane in passenger class sandwiched between two Twitter-obsessed idiots… or as a bipedal wolf, licking plates, scratching fleas and barking territorially at anyone attempting to read the metre.

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Buy Captain America: Sam Wilson: Not My Captain America vol 1 s/c and read the Page 45 review here

Arrived, Online & Ready To Buy!

Reviews already up if they’re new formats of previous graphic novels. The best of the rest will be reviewed next week while others will retain their Diamond previews as reviews.

Oh wait, it was a Bank Holiday! Books to follow!


How To Make A Quill

ITEM! Comics! How To Make A Quill Pen by Tom Morgan-Jones. Instructional and hysterical!

ITEM! $30,000 grant open to comicbook creators. It’s not a scam. Rules very clear. Apply!

Rules of Summer not cropped

ITEM! Excellent article on Shaun Tan’s RULES OF SUMMER.

Here’s Page 45’s review of Shaun Tan’s RULES OF SUMMER written two years earlier. Relieved to read I was on the right tracks!

Rules Of Summer a

ITEM! An eye-opening read for anyone interested in this creative industry. ‘Can you illustrate my book?’ Some tips for writers approaching illustrators by Sarah McIntyre is well worth a read before you start sending out unsolicited emails. Illustrators, I feel for you all!

ITEM!  STRANGEHAVEN’s Gary Spencer Millidge reviews The Great British Graphic Novel exhibition at the Cartoon Museum open right now and including work by Gary, Nabiel Kanan, Posy Simmonds, Eddie Campbell, Woodrow Phoenix, David Lloyd, Dave Gibbons and – ooh, look! – here’s a map by Hunt Emerson! Fabulous!

Hunt Emerson map

– Stephen